Malaysian Monday 13: Air sirap selasih and bonus agar-agar

Monday, October 26, 2009

(Not for the fainthearted – organs are involved. Fake ones of course! And sorry for a long post but there are TWO scary treats to look at)

We never celebrated Halloween in Malaysia, Ellie from Almost Bourdain explains the reason very well in one of her posts. The colour black and decorations associated with death are considered very “suay” (bad luck) in Chinese culture (and a lot of other Asian cultures as well).

It’s not a big celebration in Australia either, although trick-or-treating does happen in a few areas. Ghoulish decorations can be purchased easily from the shops and our local library puts on a spooky-themed event for the kids. Which is great because I love the idea of Halloween and all the goriness it entrails entails.

While Malaysians don’t “do” Halloween, they certainly eat some scary looking stuff. Take these basil seeds for instance. Locally known as Biji Selasih, the seeds expand when soaked in water and end up looking (and feeling!) like frog-spawn. These are then added to red cordial/red syrup to make a refreshing drink.

 There are versions of this Air Sirap Selasih (Air sirap=Syrup water) in other cultures as well – the Indian Falooda and the Thai Nam Manglak. I’ve never tasted either of those drinks but the flavourings sound similar.

In Malaysia, air sirap (syrup water/syrup drink), is the red cordial of choice for big kenduris (feast/celebration). I’m not sure how it was made originally, but most air syrup now just comes out of a bottle. The extremely sweet, red, rose-flavoured drink is a big hit with kids. Other versions of Air Sirap, include Air-Sirap Limau (Limau=Lime), and Air Bandung, a pink concoction involving rose syrup and condensed milk (even I draw the line at this one).

I didn’t feel like buying a whole bottle of rose cordial so I made up a version using simple syrup and rosewater. To give the syrup its distinctive red hue, I was lucky enough to have some freshly delivered bottles of pomegranate juice to experiment with. The subtly tangy flavoured juice is not sweet, making it the perfect mixer to add colour to drinks.

(When Linsday of POM Wonderful emailed me about a month ago asking if I would like to try some pomegranate juice, I couldn’t hit the reply button fast enough. Seriously – is there a different answer to the question “would you like some free stuff to consume?” The timing was near perfect too, the package arrived just before I attempted to make my drink. Thanks Lindsay!).

The resulting syrup tasted a bit more sophisticated than the Air-Sirap of my childhood, and the kids loved the frog-spawn. Mr. Kitchen Hand was suitably disgusted when I made him swallow a mouthful ☺. (He liked the flavour though, but the basil seed texture (a bit like bubble tea) freaked him out too much).

The red syrup made me think of another favourite Malaysian dessert – agar-agar. There must be hundreds of different agar-agar variations out there, but in it’s simplest form, the agar-agar is flavoured with pandan, tinted red and cut into pretty little diamonds. At almost every birthday party, gathering or pot-luck, one can be sure to find a plate of these little gems.

Of course, I couldn’t resist “Halloweenifying” the treat up to produce these “eyeballs” in Lychee and Pomegranate agar-agar. The kids were absolutely thrilled and broke out spontaneous zombie-walking demanding more eyeballs.

I did make a prettier version of the agar-agar decorated with lychee “flowers” too. As you can see, I still haven’t got the hang of cutting it into diamonds yet. Ah well, at least it tasted good. I’m sending this agar-agar over to Mansi at Fun and food cafe for her Sweet Celebrations blog-event too.

Have a great rest of the week and I leave you with Mr. Kitchen Hand’s reaction to the agar-agar and the recipes. See you soon.

Sorry for the ultra long post.

The MKH Scale-O-Meter 
Appearance: 3 “ Looks very cool with the lychee “flowers”
Taste: 3.5 “Refreshing lychee and unusual pomegranate taste”
Texture: 1 “Manages to be both rubbery and slippery”

(Agar - agar has a sort of crisp texture. Unlike jelly/jell-o, it doesn't dissolve in the mouth, it kind of disintegrates) 

Air-Sirap Selasih (Rosewater Flavoured Syrup with Basil Seeds)
For syrup:
½ cup sugar
½ cup hot water
dash of rosewater

Dissolve sugar in the water, leave to cool. Stir in a dash of rosewater to flavour.

To serve
1 teaspoon basil seeds (available from Asian/Indian grocery stores) soaked in water until expanded – takes about 10 minutes. Rinse the expanded seeds in a sieve under running water.
Some pomegranate juice (if unavailable, substitute with cranberry juice or add food colouring instead)
Ice and water

Put some sugar syrup into a glass. Add enough pomegranate juice, water and ice to taste. Adjust the sweetness of the drink by varying the amount of sugar syrup. Add a spoonful of “frog-spawn” before serving. Store leftover “frog spawn” in the fridge.

Lychee and Pomegranate Agar-Agar.

1 can lychees in syrup
1 bottle (475ml) pomegranate juice. with some water added to make it up to 500ml (If you have access to fresh pomegranates, you could juice your own).
5-7g agar-agar powder (depending on the level of “setness” desired. read the instructions on your agar-agar as the amount required may differ).
1 tablespoon sugar (or more according to taste. Our agar agar tasted mildly sweet, with a lovely tang from the pomegranate juice. If you like your desserts very sweet, add more sugar)
Some blueberries to decorate
Shotglasses (you can use any moulds but the shotglasses are perfect for holding the eyeballs down).

Drain the lychees and reserve the syrup.

Pop a blueberry into the cavity of a lychee. Put this “eyeball” into the bottom of a shotglass and wedge it in a little – otherwise the eyeball will float but it doesn’t matter, it will still look spooky. Make as many eyeballs as desired.

(Alternatively, cut the lychees into pretty flower shapes (see pic) and arrange on the bottom of a suitable mould.)

Measure the amount of lychee syrup collected and top it up with water until it gets to 500ml. Heat the syrup and sugar until just simmering, stir in the agar-agar powder and keep stirring until all the agar-agar has dissolved. (It’s ok to boil agar-agar, it won’t denature like gelatin).

Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the stove. Pour in the pomegranate juice, stir quickly and spoon into shotglasses or pour into moulds. Try not to boil the pomegranate juice because heating will affect the colour and make it more purple than red. (If the juice is too cold and agar-agar starts to set, just turn the heat back on low and sitr until the agar-agar dissolves)

Spoon the agar-agar into the shotglasses. Have a toothpick handy to manouver any eyeballs that move, or to shift the eyeballs slightly so that the agar-agar can get to the bottom of the glass.

Leave to set. The agar-agar will set at room temperature and takes no time at all to set in the fridge. Best served chilled.

Lychee "flowers" at base of mould. Pour the agar-agar over a spoon to avoid dislodging the lychee


Anh said...

What a treat! I know that agar agar dessert takes a bit of time to get used to. But I do like it from time to time!

Mansi said...

agar agar can make for a lovely dessert indeed, thanks for sharing a traditional recipe with us:)

Ellie said...

Good on you to find the basil seeds!! Love this when I was younger. Love the floral deco of lychee in your agar agar!!

Trissa said...

Very creative! Love what you did with the lychee flower.

blogresipi said...

We are big fan of biji selasih. Like sirap selasih and sometimes craving for laichikang too.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What an interesting looking dessert! I've always thought those basil seeds look like little eyes :P

shaz said...

Thanks Anh ..agar agar is very refreshing in summer

Thanks Mansi - Sweet Celebrations is such a fun event

Hi Ellie, they were easy to find - will email you the details :)

Hi Trissa - thanks for visiting my blog

Hi blogresipi - oh ya, laichikiang, hmmm...must try that soon.

Cheers Lorraine - they do look pretty freaky don't they.

LOVE said...

Hi Shaz..pls to meet U! Great site here! ;) Keep up the gud work ya! ;)

A cupcake or two said...

I have always been extremely curious as to what those little frog spawn lookng things were. My dad used to get us drinks and I would always try to dissect it to see if it was something I was familiar with. Now I know. Its called Selasih. Thanks.

shaz said...

Thanks Love - enjoyed visiting your site too :)

Hi a cupcake or two - I knew about selasih because my mum used to buy it from the market for me, but it took forever, ever, ever to work out that selasih = basil seeds!

oneordinaryday said...

Oh my! That frog spawn drink is spooky. Very clever!!!

shaz said...

Cheers oneordinaryday :) Thank you for visiting.