Pearly Kee is an acclaimed cookery teacher in Penang, who shares her passion for Nyonya cuisine and fresh ingredients with students from around the world. At her Penang Homecooking School, Pearly demystifies Penang Nyonya cooking, a multicultural cuisine that blends Malay, Chinese, Thai and Indian influences.
During Asian Inspirations’ recent food writers’ tour of Malaysia, we were lucky to spend the day with Pearly, beginning with a market tour where we gathered ingredients for our hands-on cooking class. As we roamed the stalls, Pearly revealed the health benefits of local herbs and spices, such as burdock root, turmeric, galangal and ginger.
Back at Pearly’s home, with help from her husband Chandra, we tried our hands at an array of authentic Nyonya dishes, including kapitan chicken curry, white curry with vegetables and a lip-smacking dish of lemongrass prawns, then sat down to a shared meal in Pearly’s home.
Here, Pearly Kee shares tips on creating traditional Nyonya recipes at home, including preparing ingredients and creating the perfect spice paste.
To book a class with Pearly, visit penanghomecookingschool.com.
Fine slicing is a real hallmark of authentic Nyonya cooking. It lends a certain finesse to the finished dish and it also makes the food taste better.
Lemongrass is used in many Penang Nyonya recipes – do take care to use only the first 4-8cm from the root as this has the most flavour.
Don’t worry about removing the skin from roots such as turmeric, galangal and ginger. Rinse under water, then slice with the skin on as this is where all the goodness is. If the black spots bother you, just scrape these off.
I always recommend using your hands to squeeze and strain tamarind pulp to make tamarind water. If you use a sieve, you’ll end up trapping all the tamarind cream which is where the taste is, so get stuck in and use your hands!
Deep-fried crispy shallots and garlic will add crunch and flavour to your dishes. I always fry mind from scratch. They key to making crispy deep-fried shallots is to keep stirring in the wok. When a couple of slices start to turn brown, lower the heat. When more slices turn brown, turn off the heat and keep stirring. Keep a close watch as the shallots can burn very quickly. When all the shallots are golden brown, scoop these out onto paper towels to remove excess oil. This method also works well with thinly sliced garlic.
Making your own fresh spice paste from scratch isn’t as scary or difficult as it sounds. The most important thing is to make sure that the paste is as fine as can be. Think fine paste + awesome taste! Rather than blending all the ingredients whole, I suggest chopping these up before blending. Stir in spice powders to the spice paste last to help absorb the extra liquid.
For more Malaysian cooking inspiration, find Malaysian curry recipes for every occasion, or discover top hawker-style snacks and Malaysian street foods.
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