Malaysian cuisine has been blessed with brilliant flavours, spices and ingredients. In fact, it is an extremely tough task to ascertain which ingredient has to go into which dish. It is also confusing when you don’t know what some of the ingredients are.
So, here are a few pointers to guide you along. These are the top ten Malaysian ingredients which feature regularly in Malaysian cuisine.
Pandan leaves and fruits have a unique taste and aroma which enhance desserts and drinks. They are also used to wrap sweet as well as savoury foods. The juice from Pandan are used to flavour or colour cakes and for cooking curries and rice.
This is a fermented, ground shrimp paste which is sun-dried and formed into slabs like pate. The paste is used to enhance the flavour of several dishes. It is normally roasted and then incorporated into dishes.
These small, dried anchovies are an essential in Malaysian cooking. They are combined with chicken bones to make a lovely salty stock for noodles or as a flavour-booster for stir fries. They are also deep fried to a golden crunchy texture which is sprinkled over soupy noodles or stirred into sambal belacan for Nasi Lemak (the national dish of Malaysia).
A rhizome and herb of the ginger family, this has a pungent, citrusy aroma and flavour. They usually have a mild ginger (without ginger heat) flavour with a lovely citrus perfume. Only a small bit should be used for adding a refreshing element to rich dishes (curries), otherwise the dish turns bitter.
Often found in the frozen section of grocery stores, the torch ginger flower is usually seen shredded finely in kerabu (Malaysian style salads). It is a beautiful, succulent bud which is crunchy, and imparts a citrus flavour.
Vital to traditional Malaysian cooking, the coconut appears in sweet and savoury dishes. The flesh of older coconuts is shredded to make coconut milk and cream or to make Kerisik, shredded coconut which is toasted until brown and ground into a paste. Malaysian sweets (especially kuih) use coconut in all its forms – the shredded flesh, cream and milk. Coconut enriches a Malaysian dish. Take the first step by learning how to hollow out a coconut.
A dark palm sugar, Gula Melaka is made from the sap collected from slits cut of coconut trees. This sap is then boiled until thick. It is then poured into traditional bamboos to set into cylinders. Gula Melaka has a molasses-like richness and blends best with coconut and pandan.
Dried shrimps are used in dishes to give it a salty, prawn flavour. The shrimps are usually rehydrated in hot water and either pulverised in a food processor or broken down with a mortar and pestle before being used in stir fries, sambals, dumpling fillings, Laksa pastes or steamed savoury cakes.
This sour ingredient is used as an alternative to lime or lemon juice. Available in the form of a paste, slice or pulp, tamarind can be made into juice by soaking it in boiling hot water. Tamarind has a lovely tart, fruity flavour. It is used in salad dressings with lime or to add a cleansing, sour note to rich, spicy dishes.
Also known as Water Morning Glory and Hollow Spinach, Kangkung consists of a few long slender leaves, with lovely hollow stalks that give it a unique crunch and a mild earthy flavour. It tastes best when stir fried with garlic, chilli and belacan or garlic and fermented bean curd.
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