Malaysia is a fertile land where diverse cultures have mingled for centuries, creating exciting culinary traditions. The spicy, often pungent ethnic Malay tastes are enriched with Chinese, Indian and Thai flavours.
The following ingredients are important to Malaysian cuisine and are available at Asian grocery stores and some large supermarkets.
Coconut: For grated fresh coconut, place coconut in the sink and hit sharply with the back of a heavy knife or hammer to split. Discard the juice and use a stiff, sturdy table knife to pry out the flesh. Convenient and fresh-tasting frozen grated coconut is available at some Asian grocery stores. Substitute unsweetened desiccated coconut in a pinch.
Coconut milk: Coconut milk is the liquid obtained by mixing grated coconut flesh with water and squeezing out the juices. You can buy it canned in most supermarkets and frozen at most Asian grocery stores.
Dried red hot peppers: In Asian grocery stores, look for 2- to 3-inch (5 to 8 cm) long peppers with a deep red colour; they are milder than fresh red hot peppers and have more flavour.
Galangal: This tropical rhizome resembles ginger but has a thinner, whitish pink skin that you don't need to peel. Substitute 1 tsp (5 mL) ground dried galangal for 1 tbsp (15 mL) minced fresh galangal. Galangal has quite a distinctive taste reminiscent of pepper and ginger. If unavailable, omit it from the recipe or, if the recipe doesn't already include ginger, replace it with minced fresh gingerroot or dried ginger in the same proportions as above.
Laksa noodles: Thick, round white rice noodles, sometimes labelled laifen or Chongshan rice stick on Chinese packaging. Substitute wide rice stick noodles.
Lemongrass: A fragrant tall grass, lemongrass looks a bit like long, woody green onions. Trim off the darker green, dry tops and remove the dry outer layer; reserve for making stock. Substitute 1 strip of lemon rind for each stalk.
Palm sugar: This sugar is made from palm sap and sold in solid pieces; cut off pieces or grate to measure. Substitute light brown sugar.
Shrimp paste: Made from sun-dried small shrimp and mildly fermented, this pungent paste is a base for many dishes. Don't let the smell put you off because it mellows when cooked and adds a real depth of flavour. Choose Malaysian shrimp paste packaged in dry blocks or Thai shrimp paste in tubs. More readily available Chinese shrimp paste in jars can be used in a pinch.
Tamarind: The ripe, long seedpods of the tamarind tree contain a pulpy, sweet-and-sour flesh. The pulp and seeds are packaged in blocks; you must mix them with water and strain out the solids (seeds and fibres) before using.
Complimentary side dishes
Malaysian food is always served with plenty of white rice, and we have recommended simple sides that reflect Malaysian eating habits. Its dishes often include large quantities of hot peppers, and our recipes reflect this tradition, but we have also created milder versions that still do justice to the originals. After highly spiced meals, Malaysians most often enjoy fruit plates or simple ices or iced drinks -- and we suggest you do, too.
So pique the taste buds of your family or guests with our authentic Malaysian main dishes, which have been fully adapted to Canadian kitchens. As with any recipe, it's a good idea to read these through to help you organize ingredients and methods.
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