I love nyonya food but when it comes to cooking it, that is a different tale. I find that is one of the most tedious and with the most preparation. So when Betty cooked this delicious meehoon (vermicilli) kerabu and gave me the recipe for the rempah (spice paste), I had it sitting in the drawer for months before I finally gave it a try. Now, my preconception about Nyonya cooking has change but not that much...not as tedious (that's with a lot of help from the food processor) but still so much sobbing involved (the shallots, obviously).
The result, I must say, was worth all the tears though. It was this heaven of aromatic fragrances that intoxicate all of the senses.
It goes well with steam fish, fried fish, chicken and even pork, not just vermicelli.
I started off wanting to double the recipe as I figured I might as well get more for the the same amount of work and according to Betty this paste keeps well in the fridge for a month or so. Alas, it turned out I didn't have enough dried chillies, so I had to stick with one recipe and that turned out plenty, enough for at least 6 dishes!
10-15 dried chilies*, soaked and seeded
30 red small onion (shallots), peeled
1 bulb garlic, peeled
5 stalks lemongrass, use white parts only
1 bunga kantan (ginger flower)
5 buah keras (candlenut)
3 thumb sized lengkuas (galangal)
*buy big fat dried chilies with smooth shiny skin if you don't want a too spicy hot paste
Blitz all the ingredients until fine in a food processor (and if you like the exercise or torture, use the mortar and pestle which some purists would swear make better paste).
With 2-3 tablespoon of oil, fry the paste over medium heat until fragrant and dry. Season with salt.
The paste keeps well in the fridge for a month or so.
The picture of nyonya chicken at the top most of this post was readied in just the time it took to cook through the chicken pieces, about 20 minutes.
1 chicken, chopped into small pieces
3 T nyonya paste
3-4 kaffir leaves*, washed and shredded coarsely
1 T sugar
2-3 T lime juice (can be substituted with yogurt or tamarind juice)
salt to taste
Marinate chicken pieces with the paste for 30 minutes or overnight in fridge.
Heat up 1 T oil in wok and add chicken pieces to brown.
Add 1/4 cup of water and bring to boil, lower heat to simmer.
When chicken is soft, add kaffir leaves* (will give the dish a bitter taste if added too early), sugar, lime juice and salt to taste.
Cook until gravy thickens a bit and dish out.
It is just as easy with fish, just fry the fish as usual. Then add 1 or 2 tablespoon of the paste in. Add a little water, lime juice (or tamarind), sugar and salt to taste.