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Market Monday: This Bud’s for You

16 Sep

Daylily Buds

On nice weekend mornings, Mr. SOK likes to ride his motorcycle on the windy mountain roads surrounding KL. My reward for staying at home with the baby is a load of fresh vegetables, as there are a bunch of farms that take advantage of the (relatively) cool air. This is where Malaysians grow things like lettuce and strawberries and mushrooms, which would wilt in the tropical heat of the lowlands. This week he brought back fresh wood ear mushrooms and daylily buds (also called golden needles in Chinese).

Though you’re not likely to find daylily buds at the supermarket any time soon, they’re widely eaten in both East and West, and since they’re such a common garden plant, they’re also an entry in Foraging 101. Just Google “daylily bud recipes” and you’ll get tons of hits. Most call for a simple approach, like a stir-fry or saute, to preserve the delicate flavor of the buds. I decided to riff on mu shu pork, which traditionally calls for daylily buds and wood ear mushrooms, and make a stir-fry with the buds, some fresh wood ear mushrooms also procured from the highlands, and chicken.

The buds are very tasty, with a texture similar to very fresh, tender green beans, and a flavor that’s a combination of vegetal and sweet. Unfortunately, both Mr. SOK and I appear to be in the small minority of people (about 2%) with a sensitivity to daylilies. We had eaten them before, during the unfortunate episode with the chili peppers of doom, but it appears that some of the ill effects might have been due to the buds, as we both got sick that evening. (I had both the mushrooms and the chicken the next day without incident, so by process of elimination, it had to be the buds.) I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone from raiding their own flower garden, but maybe try a few out (cooked) before going whole hog and throwing a daylily bud party.

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Tastes Like Burning

25 Aug

Deadly weapons

Part of our vegetable haul from the Cameron Highlands was a bag of hot peppers. “These are really hot,” the auntie told us, and our reaction was, “Great!” because Tom, especially, is keen on spice and has a higher tolerance than anyone would expect from a Latvian-Scottish kid raised in rural Michigan. While making dinner, I decided to test exactly how hot these peppers were, so I cut off a wee slice from the very end (i.e. furthest from the seeds, which carries the actual capsaicin). And then ran around trying to find something to put out the burning in my mouth. (Which is also how I found out that our 2% milk is vanilla-flavored, but that’s another story.) One lesson I learned from this: if an old Malaysian lady tells you something is hot, you should believe her. After dousing the flames to a manageable smolder, I very carefully shaved off two or three very thin slices to include in the hot and sour soup I was making for dinner.

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Because it is bitter, and because it is my melon*

6 Mar

I’m cheating a little with this post, because bitter melon isn’t completely new to me, but I bet it’s new to a lot of SOK readers. Bitter melon (also called balsam pear or goya) is one of those daunting vegetables you often see in Asian groceries, and is widely eaten across Asia, but hardly at all by Westerners. It’s supposed to be one of those superfoods, and has been credited with everything from treating diabetes to curing cancer to even preventing malaria. So why hasn’t it gone all trendy, like açaí? The main reason you’re not going to find bitter melon smoothies at your local Jamba Juice is that bitter melon is, as you might guess, really, really bitter. Like, possibly the bitterest in the known vegetable universe, although I don’t know how they quantify that sort of thing; do they have a bitterness equivalent of the Scoville scale? And it’s not your run-of-the-mill bitter, like coffee or beer, but a bitterness with a vegetal bite, as if you were chewing on leaves.

Eat me. I dare you.

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Tempeh, the other vegetarian “meat”

4 Feb

Where's the tempeh?

I realize that a lot of my posts involve meat: hamburgers, roast pig, fish, pork dumplings, braised pork…but it’s not all about the animals here at SOK. With the new year (both Gregorian and lunar) underway, my thoughts have turned to healthy eating, and often that means looking for meat alternatives. (There’s no vegan equivalent of pork belly, after all.) Most people are familiar with tofu, and soy-based fake meats like Boca Burgers, but tempeh is less well-known (at least to non-vegetarians), and usually only encountered in its seasoned, cooked form at Trader Joe’s.

Tempeh originated in Indonesia, and it’s widely eaten there and in Malaysia; go to the market, and you’ll see packets of fresh, homemade tempeh for sale. I was always under the impression that it was made from grains, but a little Googling revealed that it, too, is a soy product. Soybeans are mixed with a grain, like rice or millet (so I wasn’t completely wrong), then combined with starter and left to ferment for a day or so. It doesn’t taste fermented, though, just a bit nutty.

Tempeh’s firm texture — sort of like a cross between cheese and a veggie burger — makes it ideal for stir-fries like the one pictured left. My mom had never tried tempeh, and we were at Kale’s Deli in Honolulu, where my high school classmate works. (She also bakes some killer gluten-free, vegan cookies, which converted even my very non-health-food-oriented in-laws.) What better place for a first tempeh experience? Here, it’s combined with roasted kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), long beans, and a sesame-soy-miso sauce, and served over a secret blend of whole grains. It tasted healthy in a good way, like you were eating something to nourish your body. It inspired me to incorporate tempeh into my own cooking. But I’m drawing the line at actually making it myself.

A Good Egg

7 Jan

I’ve written about century eggs before. This is not one of them:

Animal or mineral?

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Blood Cockles

19 Oct

Cooked cockles

Since my parents live in Hawaii, they aren’t as impressed by Malaysia’s “exotic” tropical fruits and vegetables. (When I served four-angle bean, the freakiest vegetable I could think of, my mother’s response was, “Oh, I saw that at the farmer’s market the other weekend.”)

Luckily, I could still wow them with Malaysia’s bounty of fruit des mer (or at least my mom, the seafood lover). Not that Hawaii lacks for delicious marine creatures, of course, but the species are quite different. I picked up a bag of blood cockles, or kerang as they’re called here, at the market. They were so fresh that some of them were still alive.

Blood cockles get their macabre name from the orange-red color of their flesh, produced by high levels of hemoglobin. The color is more pronounced before cooking (I forgot to get a shot in the heat of the kitchen). I don’t know that I’d call it a blood color, though, more like rust, or maybe liver. But I guess “liver cockles” doesn’t have quite the same ring. They’re probably the most common mollusk in Malaysian cooking and very common across Southeast Asia, but not so much elsewhere. You’ll find them in noodle dishes like char kway teow and curry mee, and in the previously sampled “Malaccan oyster omelet” (which, oddly, I didn’t see for sale in Malacca).

You can also opt to eat them boiled and make your guests do the hard work of shucking them. (They’re tasty, but small, so the shucking time to eating time ratio is kind of large.) That’s the approach I took. As for flavor? A lot like an extremely tiny oyster, with a distinctly metallic — shall we say, even a little bloody? — tinge. Supposedly consumption has been linked to Hepatitis A, but you know what? So is eating any bivalve. (Raw.) And the last outbreak was like, in the ’80s. I think driving to buy the cockles poses greater health risks than eating them.

Would You Cook This?

13 Sep

Before I dive into my eating adventures in Hong Kong (the city that makes me regret I have but one stomach), I thought I’d share this quickie with you all.

My first thoughts when I saw these at the supermarket were “What on earth are those? And what do you do with them?” Supermarkets are great because they have signs, unlike your regular markets where you have to ask the seller, and they rattle off something that you have no hope of remembering. These strange looking vegetables are kacang botol, or four-angle bean, so called for obvious reasons.

Despite looking a bit daunting (I thought they might be a cactus of some sort), they grow just like any other bean — slice the pods open and you can see the beans inside — and are mild enough to be eaten raw. I decided to make a traditional Malaysian dish, sambal kacang botol with shrimp, which is just the beans stir-fried with chili paste and shrimp.

If I was being authentic, I would have made my own chili paste, but I didn’t get started that early so I just used a pre-mixed sambal from the store. Cooking with sambal really makes me appreciate both the wet kitchen and its insanely high-powered range hood. If you’ve ever fried chilis in oil, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like misting your kitchen with pepper spray.

The cooked beans were nicely crisp, off-setting the spicy sambal. Even if you don’t have access to four-angle beans (and who knows, you might see it at your local Asian market any day now), you could make the same dish with string beans or green peppers. I think zucchini would be an interesting substitution as well, although it doesn’t have the same crunch factor. The link above is an easy recipe you can try.