It’s been wonderful doing the blog-rounds and reading about how bloggers in different countries are gearing up for the hols. Our warm weather Christmas will (hopefully) be filled with some barbecues and beach days, and lots of family time.
My childhood Malaysian Christmas was celebrated slightly differently. We still gathered with the family, but the main meal was eaten on Christmas Eve, and presents were opened at midnight – a tradition I’m still (unsuccessfully) lobbying the Oz family for. Forget turkey, our meal usually consisted of special curries and other typical Malaysian dishes, but occasionally an atypical roast chicken and some salads would appear (we’d always been adventurous cooks and eaters).
Christmas Day itself was set aside for entertaining visitors at our Open House. Here’s a little tidbit of information I just found out - apparently the Open House custom was started in 1971, by the then Prime Minister who threw open the doors of his abode during the Hari Raya celebrations.
We went to family Open Houses during Chinese New Year. Forgive the blurry pic - old camera.
The idea of an Open House is simple: family, friends, acquaintances and sometimes even strangers will visit the house of the person who’s celebrating. No invitations are needed and no time frame specified. Folks just start dropping in at a polite hour (usually after 10am) and stay for as long as they like. The steady stream of visitors can continue throughout the day. The host will have prepared a feast and will ply the visitors with food and drink.
When we were kids, this was a really exciting day because it meant lots of presents, usually of the edible variety. Visiting etiquette required some form of gift for the hosts, and we usually ended up with lots of chocolate and celebratory hampers.
But once I was old enough to help out in the kitchen, Open Days weren’t so much fun anymore. I was drafted into the spice pounding and other prep work as Mum (wo)manned the stove. At the crack of dawn, I’d be seated on the floor with the massive mortar and pestle in front of me, making curry paste. The dialogue usually went a bit like this : Me : “Is it done yet?” Mum: “No, not fine enough, do some more”. Me: “Argghhhh!!!!”.
Modern style spice paste - using a blender
Then once all the cooking was finished and the guests had arrived, I’d end up either in the role of waitperson or manual dishwasher. At least all the hard work helped boost my confidence in the kitchen!
One thing I learnt was cooking for a crowd. A huge pot of curry went a long way and was usually a crowd pleaser. Mum’s signature dish was an awesome mutton curry. I still haven’t mastered this one thanks to vague Malaysian style recipe instructions (just use a bit of this and a bit of that). What I do know how to make is this Southern Style Rendang. It’s a great make ahead dish and actually tastes better the next day. It also freezes well and great to have on hand during those busy times, just heat it up and serve with rice and a quick salad of tomatoes and cucumbers.
It doesn't look very photogenic but it sure tastes good!
Southern Style Rendang
(adapted from a recipe clipped from a Malaysian newspaper. It was actually an advertorial for a brand of slow cooker)
(Makes enough for a main dish to serve around 6 – 8 people depending on what sides are served with it. If served as part of a banquet with many different dishes, it can go further)
note: 1) I used beef for this, but any red meat, eg lamb, venison, can be used instead
2) Traditional rendang requires the addition of kerisik, a coconut paste made from toasting then
grinding fresh grated coconut. Instead of kerisik, I used toasted desiccated coconut for flavour.
3) This rendang from the Southern States includes curry powder which is unusual for rendang
10 dried chillies (soaked in warm water until softened)
4 fresh chillies (deseed if needed)
(up the chillies if more heat is desired)
2 stalks lemon grass (white part only)- roughly chopped
a chunk of ginger (about 15g)
a small chunk galangal (about 10g)
thumbnail sized piece of fresh tumeric (about 5g)
2 candlenuts / buah keras (macadamia nuts can be substituted)
4 french eschalots (about 110g) – roughly chopped
1 medium Spanish onion (about 220g) – roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic – remove skin
Pound everything into a fine paste or use a blender like I did! If needed, add a little bit of the soaking water from the chillies to help with the blending. (I added about 6 tablespoonfuls)
1 kg diced beef
2 kaffir lime leaves
3-4 tbsp dessicated coconut (toasted and browned) (as a substitute for kerisik)
1 tsp sugar (or to taste)
2 tbsp (approx 10-15g curry powder) mixed with enough water to form a paste.
salt to taste
270ml can coconut milk + 270ml water (measured in the can) (For richer flavour, use about 400ml coconut milk)
small piece of tamarind (about 40g), soaked in just enough hot water to soften, then mush it with your hand and sieve the resulting liquid. Discard seeds)
In a large pan, gently fry the spice paste with about 5 tbsp vegetable oil until the paste smells cooked (fragrant). On medium high heat, it took about 4-5 minutes. Add the curry powder paste and cook for a couple of minutes until incorporated. Add the diced meat and stir until coated and lightly browned. Add the toasted coconut and stir well, then add in the coconut milk, water, tamarind juice and crushed lime leaves. Bring to a simmer then lower heat and simmer until the meat is tender (depending on cut of meat, anywhere between 40 minutes to 1 ½ hours). Season with sugar and salt to taste.
Serve with rice or cool and store overnight in the fridge to serve the next day.