A Malaysian Chinese New Year Feast

I don’t know about you, but when I was little I wanted to be less like me and more like everyone else. More like my friends with their pale skin and mums who wore high-heeled shoes. Less like me with my Chinese eyes and mum who wore hand-painted baseball boots.

Growing up in Newcastle in the 1980s, I found myself being teased quite a bit, sometimes even bullied, for being part Chinese and being the daughter of artists. Both of which I’m fiercely proud of now, but back then I’d have given anything just to be normal.

Thankfully my daughters seem proud of their Chinese heritage, although the world does feel quite a different place now. In recent years we’ve started celebrating Chinese New Year and it’s becoming one of our family traditions, a chance to bring a taste of Chinese Malaysian cuisine to our little corner of rural Somerset.

Last year I cooked up quite an ambitious Chinese banquet for our New Year celebrations. It was delicious but a little stressful preparing so many dishes for one meal, so I decided to make things easier this year. So last weekend, I chose just a few recipes from a wonderful cookbook called Nonya Flavours, an excellent guide to the cuisine of the Straits Chinese community of Penang, the Malaysian island where my mother grew up.

We had a couple of chicken dishes – a sweet soy sauce chicken and a traditional chicken curry, served very simply with boiled rice and a nourishing vegetable soup. And it was perfect, proving that a fabulous feast doesn’t need to be complicated. The curry was fairly spicy and I was rather surprised that both my daughters could handle it. Must be their Chinese blood I suppose…

Vegetable soup

2 litres water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing (Chinese rice wine)
3 slices ginger
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 carrots, peeled and cut into decorative shapes
2 cloves garlic, crushed
10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water and halved
300g pak choi, shredded
salt and sugar

In a large pan, bring the water to a boil and add the soy sauce, Shaoxing, ginger, peppercorns, carrot, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the pak choi. Cook for another 10 minutes and season to taste with a little salt and sugar. Serve hot. We like to pour the soup over our boiled rice.

Sweet soy sauce chicken

2 chicken breasts, cut into bitesize pieces
20g sugar
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
salt and pepper
4 slices ginger
125ml water

Mix together the sugar, soy sauce and a little salt and pepper and pour over the chicken pieces. Make sure the chicken is well covered and leave to marinade for at least half an hour.

Pour the water into a wok over a medium heat and add ginger slices and the marinated chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer until the chicken is tender and cooked through – around 20 minutes. Add more water if the liquid dries up before the chicken is cooked.

Serve immediately with rice.

Nonya chicken curry

For the spice paste

1 green chilli
100g shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp dried turmeric
1½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
8 skinless chicken thighs
250g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml coconut milk
100ml coconut cream
salt

First of all make the spice paste. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and mince well. Then grind using a pestle and mortar – you’ll probably need to do this in several batches – until you have a fairly smooth paste.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick for a minute. Add the spice paste and stir fry well. Add a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and fry over a low heat until fragrant.

Throw in the chicken thighs and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes and pour in the rest of the coconut milk. Simmer gently until the chicken is tender and the potatoes are cooked through.

Pour in the coconut cream and stir well. Season with salt to taste. Continue to cook until the gravy is slightly thick.

Serve with boiled rice. This served two adults and two children, and there were plenty of leftovers for the freezer to provide us with an easy mid-week supper.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Magic chicken korma from The Good Stuff

Since becoming a food blogger, my family and I have been eating a much more varied and interesting diet. It’s partly due to wanting to try out new things to keep the blog fresh, but also because I’m reading so many other food blogs and being inspired to test out their offerings. It’s this sharing aspect I think I enjoy most about becoming part of a food blogging community.

And this ethos of sharing good food is what I like so much about a new blog I’ve recently discovered called The Good Stuff. Written by two dads with young children, Matt and Corpy describe their blog as “a swap shop for new parents with a passion for good, healthy food”. It’s great too to hear some male voices out there amongst the cacophony of us mummy bloggers, plus they’re both from the West Country – my favourite part of the country. As well as posting their own scrummy recipes – take a look at this pair of risottos, for example, for kids and for dads – they also share tasty recipes offered by others. I was very chuffed when they recently featured my simple fish pie recipe.

Now I’m very excited to be able to return the favour. Here is a guest post from The Good Stuff’s Corpy for his Magic Chicken Korma, which I know my family are going to love when I try it out on them very soon. Over to Corpy!

Magic Chicken Korma

Way back when we first started telling friends that we were expecting a baby, a really wise friend of mine called Oli said “one of the great things about becoming a parent is that you get to experience all the stuff about being a kid that you forget when you get older”.  He doesn’t have kids, as it happens, but he was so right.  In many ways it is exactly this sharing a journey with our kids as they discover food that got us into writing The Good Stuff to start with.

Now we’ve progressed to a stage where our baby is a toddler – old enough to get involved with stirring, mixing, tasting and generally enjoying being in the kitchen – a new insight has emerged.  Witnessing how he gets a thrill out of dough coming together or solid veg turning puree has shone a massive light on what it is I love about cooking.  When you see it through a toddler’s eyes cookery is base magic, nothing short of alchemy.  Raw ingredients, herbs and spices spell cast together into tasty meals.  Although I’d long forgotten it – it’s this wizardry that explains why cooking continues to make me smile.

So what – you might well ask – has all that got to do with the good old fashioned Chicken Korma?   Well in short there is real magic in them, there spices.

The ingredients list (although full of cupboard staples) reads like a witches brew – stick of cinnamon, cardamom pods, milk of coconut – and the way it comes together into a rich, tasty wholeness is worthy of Hogwarts.  But like all good spells, its easy if you know how…

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 150ml single cream
  • 160ml coconut milk
  • 2 carrots
  • handful of frozen peas
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 handful of fresh coriander
  • 1 glug of vegetable oil
  • 125ml vegetable stock

This is going to make about four adult portions and is perfectly freezable.

  1. Start by prepping everything.  Cut the chicken and carrots into small cubes, peel & grate the ginger, finely chop the onion and garlic.
  2. Heat a dry frying pan (with high-ish sides) over a medium heat and when it is hot add the cumin seeds.  Cook them in the dry pan for a couple of minutes – they’ll smell lovely and pungent.  If you have a pestle and mortar pour the seeds in there and smash with the other ground spices until a fine-ish powder.  If you don’t use a flat surface and a heavy rolling pin.  Next smash the cardamom pods and add them to the spice mix.
  3. Put the pan back on the hob and heat the oil.  Once hot add the garlic, onion and ginger and soften a little before stirring in the spice mix and cinnamon stick. Keep the heat moderate, try not to burn the onion or garlic, and stir into a nice paste.
  4. Add the chicken and carrots.  Cook until the chicken is browned and the carrots softened a little then add the stock, coconut milk and bay leaf,  bringing it all to the boil.
  5. Simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid has reduced down, the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are soft.  Add the frozen peas and cook for another few minutes until they are soft and tasty.
  6. Add the cream and fresh coriander, stirring all the while and trying not to let it boil too much.  Take it off the heat and carefully remove the bay leaf, cinnamon stick and cardamom without burning your fingers!

Serve warm with rice or freeze for later.

Elly’s Nonya Chicken Curry for the Care to Cook Challenge

My little sis Elly with our Mum Cheryl (left) in Penang in the early 80s, and again with me (in the days when I was still bigger)

Our next entry for the Care to Cook Challenge comes from my little sister Elly. I say ‘little’ but must admit that Elly has towered over me for many years now, despite being five years my junior.

Elly has a very sweet tooth and I assumed when I asked if she’d submit a favourite recipe for this challenge, her contribution would certainly be a cake or pudding. But no, she’s gone and surprised me with this amazing looking Nonya Chicken Curry. My little sis is all grown up and is cooking very grown up food!

Nonya cuisine comes from the Malaysian island of Penang, where our Mum was born, and is now seen as one of the earliest examples of fusion food. Penang is a melting pot for different cultures and food from the Nonya kitchen is influenced by Chinese, Malay and Thai cooking. My sister Elly will tell you more…

I make this for my partner Kelvin and to this day he still says it’s the best chicken curry he’s ever had, which from a Malaysian is pretty high praise. And if we think perhaps he is a little biased, I also made it for his father (a lovely man but one of very few words) who told me, “It’s good.” I almost fell over – hehehe!

The method is pretty short so makes it look likes it’s going to be quick but if you really make it from scratch (ie grind and pound all the spices with a mortar and pestle), it’s quite a lot of work and you’ll end up with muscles. However, it is worth it and even just thinking of it is making my mouth water!

Here we go:

Nonya Chicken Curry

4-5 tbsp oil
1 star anise
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick

Spice paste (ground)

7 dried chillies, soaked
200g (20) shallots
3 cloves garlic
20g belachan (shrimp paste), toasted
20g (2cm) turmeric
3 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp fennel

1.5 kg meaty chicken pieces
300g potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
400ml thin coconut milk
100ml thick coconut milk
salt and sugar

Heat oil over a medium low flame and saute star anise, cloves and cinnamon stick. Add in spice paste and stir-fry well. Add 2 to 3 tbsp thin coconut milk (if it is too dry) and fry over low heat until fragrant and oil separates.

Add chicken and fry for a minute. Add potatoes and pour in thin coconut milk. Simmer until chicken is tender and potatoes are cooked.

Lastly, add the thick coconut milk and season to taste. Continue to cook until gravy is slightly thick. Serve with boiled white rice or roti.

Elly with her gorgeous daughter Loella

Do you have a favourite family recipe you’d like to contribute to TACT’s Care to Cook Recipe Challenge? Share a link to a post on your own blog or email me your recipe to be featured here on Bangers & Mash. The winning recipe will receive a copy of TACT’s cookbook signed by the charity’s patron and celebrity cook Lorraine Pascale. The closing date is 12 August – more details are here.

Chicken tikka masala

Food snobs will roll their eyes to see a recipe for chicken tikka masala. It’s not an authentic Indian curry, is it? No-one in India actually eats it, do they?

But I really don’t care. Chicken tikka masala is one of my favourite dishes to order in an Indian restaurant. It’s so moreish and familiar and comforting. And I think it deserves its place as one of Britain’s favourite meals.

And it’s the restaurant style chicken tikka masala my husband recently decided he wanted to have a go at making at home. We came across a recipe by The Curry Guy, aka Dan Toombs, and Jason just had to give it a go.

Dan’s recipe is excellent and, if curry is your thing, I really recommend you try it. It’s a good family meal as it’s creamy and softly spicy rather than fiery hot. But it’s not a quick dish to throw together. If you want to make it the way they do in restaurants, there’s quite a lot of preparation involved.

But when it comes to preparation, my husband Jason is undoubtedly your man. He’s measured and methodical, whereas I am messy and impatient. At the end of one of my cooking sessions, you’d think a tornado had blown through the kitchen. But when Jason is in charge, order and serenity reign.

Talk about tidy in the kitchen...

His first job was to make up a big batch of curry gravy, which Jason reckons took him about two hours. And when I say big, I mean big.

This curry gravy will keep us going a while!

This sauce forms the basis of many of the curries you’ll come across in an Indian restaurant. Apparently you can use it to “make everything from mild kormas to violently hot phall curries in no time”.

Dan’s recipe makes enough gravy for eight curries and it freezes well. So one down, seven more to go! I’d quite like to give his recipe for madras a whirl next time.

Anyway back to the tikka masala. Once you’ve got the gravy, you then need to pre-cook your chicken. Again you can freeze this and use in a number of different chicken curry recipes.

However this time Jason decided to scale down the quantities (our freezer couldn’t take much more!) and made just enough for this one dish. This stage took around another hour.

So once you’ve got your gravy and your chicken, you’re then ready to bring these together with more spices and cream. This final stage takes another hour.

Stirring in single cream

And – if you really want it to look like the chicken tikka masala you’d order in your curry house – you can also add a few drops of red food colouring.

Now doesn't that look a fantastic colour?

So all in all, it’s quite a complicated recipe and it takes time. Jason spread the different stages out over three separate days. But it is worth it. It is exactly like a chicken tikka masala you’d have in a restaurant. Both our daughters, who are aged six and three, really enjoyed it too. We served it with cucumber raita just in case it was too hot for them, but the spice wasn’t a problem for either of them.

A big hit with all the family

And we’ve now got lots of lovely gravy in the freezer all ready to transform into seven more curries in the coming weeks. Can’t wait!

If you’d like to give this chicken tikka masala recipe a try, you’ll find it here on Dan Toombs’ website.

Mutton dressed as… mutton

‘You look a little shy; let me introduce you to that leg of mutton,’ said the Red Queen. ‘Alice – Mutton; Mutton – Alice.’ The leg of mutton got up in the dish and made a little bow to Alice; and she returned the bow, not knowing whether to be frightened or amused.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-glass, Lewis Carroll (1872)

I recently read a piece in the Independent by Samuel Muston which suggested that mutton was making a bit of a comeback. This got me thinking: I’ve never actually eaten mutton, let alone cooked it.

Mutton has always sounded terribly old-fashioned to me. The kind of thing they ate in Victorian times or during the war because they couldn’t get hold ‘anything better’. As Muston says:

Even the word “mutton” sounds archaic and glottal; something from an age of crinolines and penny farthings. We are sophisticates, after all; we eat nice, soft, milky lamb. Two-year-old sheep went out with the ark, right?

Mutton is said to have a more complexity of flavour than lamb, a more gamey quality. You can compare the difference in flavour between mutton and lamb to that of chicken and guinea fowl. But you’d be mistaken in thinking mutton is cheaper than lamb just because its older. Quite often you pay a premium as it’s harder to get hold of.

More and more restaurants are now featuring mutton dishes on their menus. So if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. I decided there and then I was going to get hold of some of this “most British of foods”.

While some Waitrose stores now apparently stock mutton, I couldn’t find any in my local supermarket. So I turned instead to my local butcher Jon Thorners who ordered some in for me: half a leg and some casserole meat.

So now I had my mutton, what to do with it? All the advice I came across says that long, slow cooking is best, a major contributor to why it’s decreased in popularity. These days, in our busy modern lives we just don’t have the time to cook it. The good people at Mutton Renaissance explain:

However, whilst many British consumers turned their back on mutton, it has remained highly valued in Asian, North African and Caribbean cuisine where long, slow marinades are combined with moist methods of cookery.

A mutton curry therefore seemed to me the most obvious thing to start with. Our friend Mikey, who’s living the good life in Cephalonia making wine, had recently been raving about a recipe for goat curry. It sounded perfect.

The verdict? Well, I can’t recommend this recipe highly enough. The meat was beautifully tender and the flavours both spicy and delicate. The meat needs to marinade overnight and it must cook for a few hours, so not a dish to rustle up quickly. But as they say, good things come to those who wait.

I’ll definitely make this again. But not until I’ve experimented with some more mutton recipes first. I’ll report back on those later. In the meantime, here’s the mutton curry recipe…

The aromatic spices give this curry an amazing depth of flavour

Mutton curry

Serves 4

For the marinade:

500g diced mutton
2 tsp chopped garlic
3 tsp chopped ginger
2 fresh green chillies, chopped
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt

In a bowl, add all the marinade ingredients to the diced mutton and mix well. Cover and keep in a cool place over night.

For the curry:

2 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
4 cardamom pods
1 chopped onion
Marinated mutton
300ml chicken stock
1 can chopped tomatoes (crushed)
1 tbsp tomato puree
300g potatoes (peeled and chopped into large dice)
1 bunch fresh coriander (roughly chopped)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan, and then add the cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods. Cook the spices for a minute or so before adding the onion.

Cook the onions with the spices for 10 minutes then add the mutton. Stir and cook for 10 minutes, then add the stock, tomatoes and tomato puree. Cover and simmer over a low heat for about two hours. This is a perfect Aga dish. I cooked it in the bottom of our Aga for four hours.

When the meat is tender, add the potatoes and cook for another 20 minutes or so.

Remove from the heat, check the seasoning and stir in the coriander just before dishing up. Serve with rice or naan bread. Or both. I’m salivating just thinking about it.