Happy Tuesday everyone! (Sorry, it was Monday when I started typing this). Ready for another installment of Malaysian Monday? Today’s dish has no name. Oh alright, it probably has a name, I just don’t know what it is. But if you describe it to a Malaysian, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Since potatoes are a major ingredient, I’m calling it “Spicy Potato Fry”.
My friend Suresh, who incidentally is hosting the next Muhibbah Monday round-up, called it Ikan Bilis Masak Kentang, or Spicy Anchovy and Potato Stir Fry. Even thought I like anchovies, the version I remember from my university days contained tempeh instead. I’m guessing the tempeh was probably cheaper for the canteen management.
As a poor student, I ate a LOT of this stuff. Our canteen had a system where we could choose from a variety of side dishes to go with a plate of rice, and we paid according to what was on the plate (and the size of the plate). Meat or fish cost more than vegetables. The pricing system was pretty erratic though, it depended on who was behind the counter. Boss Lady never let you get away with anything, her husband, the Boss Man, was a softer touch and if one of the workers manned the counter while the bosses were on a break, he’d wave us on for the bare minimum if he was in a good mood :).
To cook this dish, you don’t need many ingredients and none of the steps are actually difficult, but it is a little bit time-consuming. Like many Malaysian dishes, the ingredients themselves can be changed to suit your palate, and measurements are fast and loose.
Here’s how I made the dish, using a mix of traditional and non-traditional techniques and ingredients :)
Start with 3 potatoes (I used Dutch Cream), a 250g block of tempeh and about 1 cup of raw peanuts. Peel the potatoes, slice into thin matchsticks, rinse in a bowl of water, drain well through a sieve and pat dry with kitchen paper. Make sure the potatoes are really dry. The washing process reduces the excess starch and stops the potato from sticking to the pan.
Slice the tempeh into matchsticks and set aside.
Toast the raw peanuts either in a dry frying pan or use the less traditional route of the oven. Remove from the oven when the skins start to peel. Rub the peanuts between your fingers, then use this trick to get rid of the skins - take the tray outside and either sift gently in the breeze, or if there isn’t a breeze, blow gently on the peanuts so that the skin floats away. Easy right? We would only buy raw peanuts when I was a kid, and my job was peanut sifter, a task I have handed on to MC Junior. It’s a fun job but the pay is peanuts (couldn’t resist could I?).
Then prepare the chilli paste. I used 3 long red chillies, 2 garlic cloves and a candlenut (optional). Deseed the chillies if you’d like it less fiery, or increase the amount for more heat. Pound the ingredients into a paste in a mortar and pestle (traditional), or use a blender (not so traditional). Have some white vinegar, fish sauce (optional), salt and sugar handy for the cooking process.
Heat a wok on medium high heat and fill with enough vegetable oil to deep fry the ingredients. If you do it in a few batches, you won’t need too much oil. I started by cooking the potatoes first (a few handfuls at a time), then lightly browning the peanuts, then the tempeh (again, a few handfuls at a time). Take each batch out and drain on kitchen paper. You should end up with three piles - fried potato, peanuts and crisp tempeh.
Drain any excess oil out of the wok, and lightly wipe off any bits with a wadded up kitchen paper. The wok should still be fairly clean. Return to heat and if needed, add a tablespoon or two of oil. Fry the chilli paste until fragrant, then add a splash of vinegar to taste (I used about 2 teaspoons). I also added a couple of teaspoons of fish sauce, which isn’t a traditional ingredient but adds a little bit of depth to the dish. Next add sugar to taste (I used about 2 heaped tablespoonfuls). Stir well. The paste should be shiny and slightly sticky.
Add the potatoes, peanuts and tempeh and stir to coat. Stir constantly to stop the mixture sticking and reduce heat if necessary. If it’s all going too fast and starting to catch, add a drop or two of water but not too much as it’s meant to be dry rather than “saucy”. Taste to check seasoning and add salt. It should taste quite sweet, spicy and a little salty too.
When all the ingredients are heated through, dish up and serve with steamed rice. It is meant as a side dish to go with other dishes as part of a meal.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget there’s still time to get in for the next Muhibbah Malaysian Monday round-up, so send your entries to sureshchong(at)yahoo(dot)com, who blogs at 3 Hungry Tummies.