Seriously Malaysian: Starters and Desserts
To conclude our brief sojourn into Malaysian cookery, this week we'll be discussing the beginning and the end. For breakfast, a simmered mung bean and coconut stew that's as delicious as it it simple to make. To start a lunch or dinner, a cucumber salad dressed in coconut milk, fish sauce, and sambal belacan, that all-powerful, endlessly useful condiment of toasted fermented shrimp paste mixed with shallots, palm sugar, and chilies. And finally, we'll take a look at two of my favorite desserts that are specialties of the region: onde-onde, the famed glutinous rice snack rolled in freshly grated coconut, and fried plantains coated in an crispy batter of dried coconut and coconut milk.
Though no two dishes this week are alike, all incorporate ingredients commonly employed in sweet Malaysian dishes: shredded coconut, coconut milk, glutinous rice flour, and plantains.
The difference between fresh and dried coconut is well worth the effort. Freshly grated coconut is particularly sweet and tender, a perfect foil for the soft and gummy texture of onde-onde. Made with glutinous rice flour, each ball cooks quickly in boiling water before receiving a roll in freshly grated coconut. Kerisik, freshly grated coconut that's been toasted and pounded, is also a welcome textural addition in the coating. (For instructions on how to acquire and dispense with a fresh coconut, refer to the preparation on kerisik—freshly grated coconut that's been toasted and pounded.)
Glutinous Rice Flour
Glutinous rice flour, not be confused with regular rice flour, is finely ground from glutinous sweet rice. Though brands like Bob's Red Mill carries glutinous rice flour, look for the flour in Asian markets, which will carry a finer grind of the rice. A particularly fine glutinous rice flour will yield a much smoother, softer dumpling than the rougher types of glutinous rice flour sold in Western stores. When used in batters that are fried, on the other hand, a coarser grind of glutinous rice flour results in a slightly crisper and rougher-textured batter.
Finally, a note on plantains: Commonly thought to be different from bananas, plantains are, in fact, just a type of banana. Look for plantains with a deep yellow or blackened skin, with flesh that yields slightly when poked. The flesh of a plantain is golden rather than pale yellow, and has a much denser and meatier texture. Though plantains can be eaten uncooked, their meaty texture is well suited for frying and simmering.
About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.