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Vermilion Roots by Christine | Vermilion Roots - 3M ago

As an extension of my intention to prioritize self-care this year, I am resolving to eat more vegetables. That means doing my best to include something green in every meal and eating the rainbow to benefit from all the goodness the plant kingdom has to offer. It also means finding new vegetables to try and learning how to cook them. For that, I have a collection of new cookbooks to help me out, which I'm going to share here in hopes that you can get some inspiration too. 

After a break over the holiday season, our CSA farm share is back and we recently received our first box of the year. Oh, I am grateful for California's fresh produce. Even in the dead of winter, we get the most gorgeous and vibrant vegetables; squash is plump and leaves are generous. I couldn't help but take a few quick snaps to show you how perky our plant friends are. Look at that flirtatious swiss chard and rambunctious curly kale! 

Staying true to my intention, I placed an order for radicchio, a vegetable I wasn't very familiar with. I didn't really know how to work with its cutting bitter character but I was determined to learn. I mean, can you resist the beauty that is the Castelfranco radicchio (pictured below), with its flower-like face and artful splashes of cream green and bold specks of burgundy?

I remember a recipe for Sauteed Turnips with Prunes and Radicchio in Joshua McFadden's cookbook, Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. He calls for the bitter green (soaked in ice water for 20 minutes to reduce bitterness) to be paired with prunes, and uses the words "sex appeal" to describe the dish. I was sold, gave it a try, and fell in love. 

Another tip I learned: quickly roast radicchio leaves in the oven at 400F with olive oil and sea salt and end with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Wow!

I'm really loving the plant-strong cookbooks that have been flooding the market. The loyalty of these authors to vegetables is unwavering, making their intentions clear with such crisp titles as "Eat More Greens", "Market Cooking", and simply "The Vegetable". I trust that they are going to make my resolution to eat more vegetables fun and delicious. Join me? Let me tell you about the cookbooks I love:

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden - Shows how to use every part of a vegetable at its peak and why seasonal eating is so rewarding.

David Tanis Market Cooking - To cook well, it is essential to know the ingredients we're working with and this books helps us make the most of our weekend jaunts to the farmer's market.

The Vegetable: Recipes that Celebrate Nature by Caroline Griffiths and Vicki Valsamis - The message is clear, if we respect the nature of food, everyone wins and your tummy will be very happy indeed. I call it feng shui in the kitchen.

Grow Cook Nourish by Darina Allen - Comes with gardening tips to grow our own veggies and teaches us how to make them good for our body with a plethora of culturally diverse recipes.

The Book of Greens by Jenn Louis - Presents quick facts and easy recipes for mostly uncommon greens in a thrilling encyclopaedic structure for the kitchen nerds in all of us.

The Microgreens Cookbook by Brendan Davison - Microgreens are flavor-packed shoots of young herbs and leafy greens that have higher nutritional value than their mature counterparts so it's a good idea to eat them and this book offers a nifty collection of recipes from chefs and top food bloggers to help us do that.

Eat More Greens by Zita Steyn - Recipes that make the best of under-appreciated veggies like aquatic greens (seaweed, watercress), bitter vegetables, and leafy tops that usually end up in the bin (like beet greens... who's guilty?).

Power Plates by Gena Hamshaw - An inspiring vegan guide on how to get a good balance of vital macronutrients on one mouthwatering plate.

Good Veg by Alice Hart - For the adventurous cooks, this vegetarian cookbook celebrates flavors from around the world.

Green Kitchen at Home by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl - The cookbook you need to make creative Insta-worthy vegetarian dishes that your mum would be proud of, you know, like vegan tuna and cauli 'fish' and chips.

Kale and Caramel: Recipes for Body, Heart, and Table by Lily Diamond - Zooms in on a selection of herbs and flowers that you can eat, drink, and use on your body.

You're invited to my Cookbooks section to check out what other books I cook with. I also have an ongoing series called Spring Discovery that puts the spotlight on vegetables I hope we'll cook more with, including a guide to Asian greens. Happy cooking!

Leave me a comment and tell me about your latest veggie discovery!

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 DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, and if you purchase through these links, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you), which helps me maintain this blog. All words and opinions are my own, and I only recommend products and brands that I trust. Thank you for your support! 
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Instead of resolutions, I'm setting an intention this year, and that is to prioritize self-care. New Year resolutions have never really appealed to me because I believe that you can make resolutions anytime of the year. And isn't it a wonderful thing to know that we don't have to wait for that one day in the year to start taking charge of our lives? We can start right now, this very second, wherever we are!

In the past couple months or so, since returning from a five-week trip to Europe, I took a break from work (and blogging) to take care of myself. I joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and made the effort to do yoga every day and meditate. After several tumultuous years in which I moved from Malaysia to the United States and started a new life far away from home and my family and friends, I decided to take a breath. A deep breath. 

I ended the year by putting myself on the path of healing and started the new year with the mantra that I am strong. I resolve to take actionable yet manageable steps to take care of myself and choose to be kind to my body and honor my health. Quite simply, that translates to eating well, getting enough sleep, and exercising. When it's cold, I make a warm drink using ingredients that support my health.

Here's a round-up of warm drinks that I love and I'd like to share the recipes with you. Tell me in the comments below what drinks keep you warm in the winter. 

Jujube Tea with Goji Berries and Cacao Nibs
This fruity tea with a pleasant hint of smokiness is a treat. Jujube or dried red dates are heralded as a superfruit in Chinese medicine for their impressive antioxidant properties. My mom taught me to drink jujube tea to improve blood circulation. Goji berries are believed to boost the immune system and mood-improving cacao nibs add more than just that nice chocolate flavor. 

Monk Fruit Tea
Perhaps your introduction to monk fruit is through the alternative sugar packets, as it is said to be 300 times sweeter than ordinary sugar without the effect on blood sugar! Known as "lo han guo" in Chinese, it's actually an age-old ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine used in teas and sweet soups to help suppress coughs. Yes, this tea is naturally sweet!

Spiced Hot Carob Drink
Known as a caffeine-free chocolate substitute, carob has a high fiber content that can help with digestion. It has a naturally sweet and nutty flavor that goes wonderfully well with winter-warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves. This is an easy drink to customize with your choice of milk and spices. It's one of my favorite pre-bedtime drinks. 

Holy Basil and Rose Tea
This two-ingredient tea is what I drink when I need to take a deep breath. Holy basil is a sacred herb in Ayurvedic medicine known as an adaptogen that can help the body deal with stress. Rose petals have been traditionally used to ease depression, anxiety, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and grief. Ahhh...

Lemongrass Ginger Barley Tea
I combined barley water, a popular drink in Malaysia, with lemongrass ginger tea to help me get through transitional days between seasons. I drink this hot or cold depending on what I need. Barley water is often used to cool the body's internal fire while lemongrass and ginger tea is a popular remedy for gastrointestinal issues.

Salted Kumquat Tea
I still have a jar of salted kumquats made more than two years ago and whenever I feel under the weather, I make a soothing cup of kumquat honey tea. This tea is a long-held Chinese remedy for a sore throat and I just love the uniquely sweet, salty, and sour flavors. 

With a nourishing warm drink in hand, I toast to health, happiness, and peace for everyone. Happy new year, my dear friends! Stay warm this winter season. ❤️

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A couple of friends and I decided to pick a cookbook, choose a few recipes to cook from, gather for a potluck, and voila we have a cookbook club! The cookbook we picked was the impressive Chinese food tome All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips

The Book
I had the great pleasure of meeting the author of All Under HeavenCarolyn Phillips, at a cookbook event in San Francisco more than a year ago. She told me that it took her 10 years to research the 500+ page cookbook that covers 35 cuisines of China. 

Being a third generation Cantonese who grew up in Malaysia and now lives in the US, many of the recipes in this book speak directly to my culinary roots and allow me to recreate the taste of home. I think every Chinese food enthusiast should own a copy!

The Recipe
I picked this recipe because it's from the Guangdong region in China where my ancestors are from. This is also a vegetable dish my dad cooked a lot for the family when I was growing up in Malaysia. It uses humble ingredients but packs in big flavors thanks to the unique fermented bean curd that I promised to tell you about when I shared my simplified recipe for Buddha's Delight. This recipe also gives me the opportunity to talk about a vegetable that we cook a lot in Southeast Asia.  

(You can read about other Asian greens and check out my Spring Discovery series for more veggie love!)



The Ingredients
In Malaysia, we know water spinach as "ong choy" in Cantonese and "kangkung" in Malay. Some say it tastes like spinach but it has a different appearance recognisable by its hollow stems and thin, arrow-shaped leaves. Like spinach, the leaves cook rather quickly and reduce a lot in volume so don't be afraid to grab a big bunch. Do note that the stems are chewier and require a longer cooking time. 

A fun fact I learned from Wendy Kiang-Spray, author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, is that water spinach is illegal to grow in some states and has apparently been listed by the US Department of Agriculture as a federal noxious weed! No wonder it's not an easy vegetable to find. I've only ever seen it at my local Asian supermarket. 

Fermented bean curd has that rich, pungent flavor often compared to cheese, which explains why it also goes by the moniker "Asian cheese". It is however not dairy and is completely vegan. As the name suggests, it's a soy product made by fermenting tofu cubes in brine. Depending on where it's made in China, it may also have rice wine and dried chilies.

Keeping to the region of this recipe, I picked a jar from Guangdong that lists water, soybeans, salt, edible alcohol, and salted chili as the ingredients. The cubes have a custardy texture like feta cheese and are very salty, so bear in mind that a little goes a long way. It creates a creamy, umami-strong sauce that stands up nicely to the "green" taste of the water spinach. 



The Potluck
I enjoy being the person who brings the greenest dish to a potluck (have you see my green cake?). My Water Spinach with Bean Curd "Cheese" and Chilies (p210 of All Under Heaven) shared the table with another favorite childhood vegetable dish of mine, Napa Cabbage with Dried Shrimp (p36), which my husband David chose to make to gain a better understanding of dried fish. And I'm really glad he did. 

Joseph made Sesame Noodles (p216) with the option of zucchini noodles (bless his heart!) and I swiftly fell in love with Chinese sesame paste, which reminded me of the tahini used in making hummus. Zacky made Uyghur Pilaf (p369), a hearty rice dish from his hometown of Xinjiang in Northwest China that has a Middle Eastern touch. 

What do you think of cookbook clubs? Leave me a comment! Follow along my food adventures on FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for email updates here

Water Spinach with Bean Curd "Cheese" and Chilies
Excerpted from All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips. Serves 6 to 8. 

1-1/4 pounds water spinach (about 3 fistfuls)
2 to 3 cubes fermented bean curd "cheese", plus a few spoonfuls of the brine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 green jalapeno pepper, diced
Splash of rice wine
Sugar, light soy sauce, or more fermented bean curd "cheese", if needed
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Wash the water spinach carefully and trim off the ends, as well as any tough stems. Cut the bunch in half where the leaves start to grow more thickly.

2. Cut the bottom half of the stems into 2-inch pieces and put them into one pile; cut the leafy stalks into 2-inch pieces and set them in another pile. Place the bean curd "cheese," or doufuru, in a small bowl in the brine and mash it with a fork.

3. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the ginger and quickly stir-fry it until it begins to brown. Add the jalapeno pepper and then the water spinach stems and toss them in the hot oil until they turn a brilliant green. Add the leafy stalks and stir-fry the leaves quickly until they barely wilt. Pour the mashed doufuru into the wok and use the rice wine to rinse out the bowl into the wok, as well. Quickly toss everything together and taste, adjusting the flavor with more doufuru or a dash of sugar or soy sauce if needed. Sprinkle the sesame oil over the water spinach and serve hot. 
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A couple of friends and I decided to pick a cookbook, choose a few recipes to cook from, gather for a potluck, and voila we have a cookbook club! The cookbook we picked was the impressive Chinese food tome All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips

The Book
I had the great pleasure of meeting the author of All Under HeavenCarolyn Phillips, at a cookbook event in San Francisco more than a year ago. She told me that it took her 10 years to research the 500+ page cookbook that covers 35 cuisines of China. 

Being a third generation Cantonese who grew up in Malaysia and now lives in the US, many of the recipes in this book speak directly to my culinary roots and allow me to recreate the taste of home. I think every Chinese food enthusiast should own a copy!

The Recipe
I picked this recipe because it's from the Guangdong region in China where my ancestors are from. This is also a vegetable dish my dad cooked a lot for the family when I was growing up in Malaysia. It uses humble ingredients but packs in big flavors thanks to the unique fermented bean curd that I promised to tell you about when I shared my simplified recipe for Buddha's Delight. This recipe also gives me the opportunity to talk about a vegetable that we cook a lot in Southeast Asia.  

(You can read about other Asian greens and check out my Spring Discovery series for more veggie love!)



The Ingredients
In Malaysia, we know water spinach as "ong choy" in Cantonese and "kangkung" in Malay. Some say it tastes like spinach but it has a different appearance recognisable by its hollow stems and thin, arrow-shaped leaves. Like spinach, the leaves cook rather quickly and reduce a lot in volume so don't be afraid to grab a big bunch. Do note that the stems are chewier and require a longer cooking time. 

A fun fact I learned from Wendy Kiang-Spray, author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, is that water spinach is illegal to grow in some states and has apparently been listed by the US Department of Agriculture as a federal noxious weed! No wonder it's not an easy vegetable to find. I've only ever seen it at my local Asian supermarket. 

Fermented bean curd has that rich, pungent flavor often compared to cheese, which explains why it also goes by the moniker "Asian cheese". It is however not dairy and is completely vegan. As the name suggests, it's a soy product made by fermenting tofu cubes in brine. Depending on where it's made in China, it may also have rice wine and dried chilies.

Keeping to the region of this recipe, I picked a jar from Guangdong that lists water, soybeans, salt, edible alcohol, and salted chili as the ingredients. The cubes have a custardy texture like feta cheese and are very salty, so bear in mind that a little goes a long way. It creates a creamy, umami-strong sauce that stands up nicely to the "green" taste of the water spinach. 



The Potluck
I enjoy being the person who brings the greenest dish to a potluck (have you see my green cake?). My Water Spinach with Bean Curd "Cheese" and Chilies (p210 of All Under Heaven) shared the table with another favorite childhood vegetable dish of mine, Napa Cabbage with Dried Shrimp (p36), which my husband David chose to make to gain a better understanding of dried fish. And I'm really glad he did. 

Joseph made Sesame Noodles (p216) with the option of zucchini noodles (bless his heart!) and I swiftly fell in love with Chinese sesame paste, which reminded me of the tahini used in making hummus. Zacky made Uyghur Pilaf (p369), a hearty rice dish from his hometown of Xinjiang in Northwest China that has a Middle Eastern touch. 

What do you think of cookbook clubs? Leave me a comment! Follow along my food adventures on FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for email updates here

Water Spinach with Bean Curd "Cheese" and Chilies
Excerpted from All Under Heaven by Carolyn Phillips. Serves 6 to 8. 

1-1/4 pounds water spinach (about 3 fistfuls)
2 to 3 cubes fermented bean curd "cheese", plus a few spoonfuls of the brine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 thin slices fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 green jalapeno pepper, diced
Splash of rice wine
Sugar, light soy sauce, or more fermented bean curd "cheese", if needed
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Wash the water spinach carefully and trim off the ends, as well as any tough stems. Cut the bunch in half where the leaves start to grow more thickly.

2. Cut the bottom half of the stems into 2-inch pieces and put them into one pile; cut the leafy stalks into 2-inch pieces and set them in another pile. Place the bean curd "cheese," or doufuru, in a small bowl in the brine and mash it with a fork.

3. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until it starts to smoke. Add the ginger and quickly stir-fry it until it begins to brown. Add the jalapeno pepper and then the water spinach stems and toss them in the hot oil until they turn a brilliant green. Add the leafy stalks and stir-fry the leaves quickly until they barely wilt. Pour the mashed doufuru into the wok and use the rice wine to rinse out the bowl into the wok, as well. Quickly toss everything together and taste, adjusting the flavor with more doufuru or a dash of sugar or soy sauce if needed. Sprinkle the sesame oil over the water spinach and serve hot. 
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Honestly, I'm not a stickler for authenticity when it comes to home cooking. But you already know that based on what I've been sharing on my blog. I made a vegetarian rendang, originally a traditional meat-based Malaysian dry curry, with beetroot and then again with pumpkin. So you know where I stand. 

I've been thinking a lot about my own food culture. The one informed by my Malaysian background. The one influenced by my move to the United States. In my American kitchen, I combine the Southeast Asian flavors I'm homesick for with the California vegetables I'm so in love with in the same pan. That is my food culture now. Put pumpkin in my laksa (Malaysian spicy noodle soup)? Let's try it! These dishes, although not strictly authentic, taste like home for me now. 

It is with this sentiment that I'm writing this installment of My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks series, the focus being the three Malaysian cookbooks released this year. In my exploration of Southeast Asian cookbooks, which started early this year with the travel theme, followed by the classics, and then a concentration of interests in the countries of Indochina, I learned that we truly are what we eat. If you're afraid of trying something new because it's foreign, that's who you are. If you're open to diversity on the plate, that's who you are. 

Multicultural Malaysia
Perhaps the question that I've been trying to find the answer to is this: What is Malaysian food? These three cookbooks, written by three Malaysians with different ethnic backgrounds, have some answers. And mouthwatering recipes, I may add!

The answer isn't straightforward, says Ping Coombes in Malaysia: Recipes from a Family Kitchen. "To understand Malaysian food is to understand how Malaysia is made up. The country consists largely of three races: Malays, Chinese, and Indians. Imagine the array of flavors and influences just from these three cultures. It's difficult to pinpoint one distinct dish or flavor and call it 'Malaysian', as Malaysian cuisine is a fusion of all these cultures."

The winner of Masterchef UK in 2014, Ping is of Chinese descent. The UK-based chef and restaurateur Norman Musa, author of Amazing Malaysian: Recipes for Vibrant Malaysian Home Cooking, is of Malay descent while US-based chef and cooking teacher Christina Arokiasamy, author of The Malaysian Kitchen: 150 Recipes for Simple Home Cooking, is of Indian descent.

All three cookbooks duly represent each of the author's cultural backgrounds yet also reflect the melting pot influences of the Malaysian identity.

Traditionally Diversified
Christina, who grew up in her mother's spice stall in Kuala Lumpur and whose first book is titled The Spice Merchant's Daughter, imparts a lot of her spice knowledge in the recipes.

Ping's book has more of a Chinese flavor, especially with the pork-based dishes. Hers is probably the cookbook I'm most at home with because she shares a lot of the Malaysian Chinese recipes that I myself grew up with, like my childhood favorite ABC soup and the comforting rice congee

Norman, who shares a lot of recipes from his Malay heritage, says he learned about the Chinese flavors from a young age as he was brought up in the predominantly Chinese city of Penang so it's not unusual for his book to include some of the dishes the foodie island is famous for, such as char kuey teow (wok-fried flat noodles) and assam laksa (noodle soup with aromatic fish stock).

Despite these differences, similarities abound and overlap in many of the recipes in the books. For example, the Malay omelet Norman calls telur dadar is essentially the same idea as Ping's Chinese omelet known as foo yung

It's interesting to see the same dishes that appear in all three books and it's no surprise that they all agree on the same iconic dishes, namely nasi lemak (coconut rice) and laksa (spicy noodle soup), both considered to be the official dish of Malaysian cuisine. All the books carry variations of the curry recipe, a dish that perhaps best reveals the cultural background of the cook based on the flavors and ingredients used. 

Fusion Flavors
As all three authors are based outside of Malaysia, the immigrant experience is essential to their food stories. Christina starts her book by telling us about the Malaysian dinner she hosted in Hawaii that led to her eventually holding cooking classes. A self-taught chef, Norman credits his mum for some of the bestsellers on the menu at his Manchester restaurant. Ping writes on her website about the "failed experiments and panic calls back to my mum in Malaysia" when she started to cook for herself after she moved to the UK to go to university.

While there are a few recipes passed down from family, like "Mum's Sambal Prawns" in Ping's book and a noodle recipe in Norman's book simply called "My Dad's Noodles", the books are not without fusion creations that reflect the author's adopted way of living.

Christina gives her modern take on the quintessential Malaysian fried noodles in her Malaysian Wok-Fried Spaghetti with Kale and Sambal recipe while Norman does an elaborate rendition of the Chinese soy pudding tau fu fa by adding crushed chocolate cookies on top!

Sometimes it's doing something radical. Other times it's returning to tradition with your dad's noodles. Once in a while, it's adding Malaysian curry powder to your popcorn, like what Ping does. What we eat is what we are, and also who we are. We all have our unique food cultures. 

Malaysian Home Cooking
If you're new to Malaysian cooking, any of these books will be a good introduction. Christina's book in particular has nuggets of information littered throughout the book that offer practical insights into the multifaceted world of Malaysian cuisine, including a comprehensive spice chart that details how spices are used. 

If, like me, you're living abroad and yearning for a taste of home, these books will be your good friends, offering the comfort of familiar flavors as well as challenging you to be resourceful with what you have. While Christina's voice commands confidence in her experience as a cooking teacher, both Ping and Norman have a personal approach that endears with anecdotes and family stories. Happy cooking!

If you have any questions about Malaysia or the food, please don't hesitate to leave me a comment below or contact me. I'd love to hear from you!

Other posts in the My Essential Southeast Asian Cookbooks series:
Part I: Travel
Part II: The Classics
Part III: New Indochina

 DISCLOSURE: This post contains affiliate links, and if you purchase through these links, I will earn a small commission (at no cost to you), which helps me maintain this blog. All words and opinions are my own, and I only recommend products and brands that I trust. Thank you for your support! 
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This post is sponsored by San Miguel Produce. We've teamed up with Jade Asian Greens, who provided the vegetables, to present a flavorful noodle dish that can be customized to your liking.

Ordering hawker or kopitiam (coffee house) noodles in Malaysia is not too different from the concept of building your own noodle bowl (or plate, if you like). First of all, you can choose to have them either in soup or dry style, to put it simply. Noodle soup is self-explanatory so my focus today is on the dry version.

Since Cantonese appears to be the lingua franca for ordering Chinese food in Kuala Lumpur where I hail, I'd like to start by introducing it by the name frequently used, Kon Loh Mee. Directly translated, it basically means "dry mix noodles," and perhaps that should give you some idea about how it's prepared. 

Unlike the soy sauce stir-fried noodles I've previously shared, the noodles here are not stir-fried but tossed with a soy sauce mixture and served with toppings, which can vary depending on the vendor's specialty and customizable based on your preference. The recipe that I developed for the Jade Asian Greens website features their baby bok choy. 

Let's get to the simple steps for building your own Malaysian soy sauce noodles at home. 

Part I: The Sauce
Despite the emphasis on the word "dry" to set it apart from the soup version, the sauce in Kon Loh Mee plays an instrumental part to bind all the good flavors and textures of the different ingredients together. 

My take on the sauce is a simple mixture of shallot oil, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil. For one serving, I like to start with 1/2 tablespoon shallot oil + 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce + 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce + 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil and go from there. Combine the sauce in a bowl, toss the noodles in, taste, and adjust the seasoning according to your preference. Add more soy sauce if you like it saltier. I usually add more sesame oil because that's how I like it. 

I'd like to stress that shallot oil is an important ingredient and you can make it easily by, well, frying shallots in oil (above). I have a simple step-by-step guide for you here

The happy byproduct of shallot oil is crispy shallots (above), which are added to the noodles at the end for the aromatic crunch that makes this dish so irresistible for me!

Seriously, don't miss the step-by-step guide to make shallot oil and crispy fried shallots here

Part II: Noodles
The next step is to pick your noodles. Thin rice noodles (mai fun), flat rice noodles (kuey teow), and yellow egg noodles are the common options at a typical Malaysian hawker stall. Depending on my mood, I sometimes combine two noodles together in one bowl (yes, you most certainly can do that at home too!) and my personal favorite are glass noodles

The springy wonton noodles, which fall under the egg noodle category, are a popular choice and available either in thin or wide (pictured above). I'd also suggest soba noodles, ramen noodles, and even spaghetti noodles! 

As a rule of thumb, 2-3 oz (55-85g) of noodles is a good portion for one serving. 

Part III: Toppings
Hawker-style Kon Loh Mee is often topped with Chinese barbecued pork, wonton dumplings, meatballs, shrimp or minced meat, just to give you some ideas. If you're avoiding meat, tofu and tempeh make good toppings here.

There's also always some kind of Asian leafy greens included, like choy sum, gai lan, or bok choy. You can find out more about these greens in this post I wrote. The greens are usually just simply blanched and my chef papa (that's what I like to call him even though he's long retired from the restaurant business) has given me a few easy tips to ensure they maintain a fresh flavor and texture. 

Here's what you do: Bring a pot of water with a pinch of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a small glug of vegetable oil to a rolling boil. Then add the greens. You know they are ready as soon as the water returns to a rolling boil. Remove the greens, drain, and add them to your noodles. 

I like to use baby bok choy because they are tender yet crisp and can be cooked whole, which really adds to the presentation of this simple dish. Jade Asian Greens offers two types of bok choy, the regular kind with white stalks and crinkly dark leaves and the overall green Shanghai bok choy with wider leaves, which can both be used for this recipe. 

They can be found in the produce section of your supermarket washed, packed in a special bag that maintains freshness, and ready for use. In fact, Jade Asian Greens is the first packaged and ready-to-use fresh Asian greens on the market since 2008. It helps that they harvest their greens daily and prepare them right before they are shipped out! A part of the San Miguel Produce, a sustainable family-owned farm in Oxnard in Southern California, they grow, harvest, process, and deliver their own vegetables. 

Part IV: Pickled Green Chilies
Finally, serve your Kon Loh Mee with a side of chilies. In a pinch, a simple chili soy sauce dip will suffice but if you have the time, pickled green chilies are the way to go. 

You can use either jalapeno or serrano for a bit more kick. In a nutshell, the chilies are sliced, deseeded, and pickled in a mixture of white vinegar, salt, and sugar until they turn a lighter shade of green, which takes about 1 to 2 hours, but it's preferable if you can wait overnight as they get better with time. I have the step-by-step guide for you here

Oh, and don't forget to top your noodles with crispy fried shallots from the shallot oil! 

For the full recipe, click here to go to the Jade Asian Greens website. 

Thanks to San Miguel Produce for sponsoring this post! Check out the Jade Asian Greens website and follow them on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Pinterest for more on Asian greens. 

All words and opinions are my own, and I only recommend products and brands that I trust. Thank you for your support!

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Vermilion Roots by Christine | Vermilion Roots - 8M ago

Cut chilies on restaurant tables in Malaysia are a thing like salt and pepper shakers are in American eateries. They are usually accompanied by soy sauce, so you can make a chili soy sauce dip to go with your food. What can I say? We really like chilies. Even those who can't take the heat like chilies. Pickled green chilies are usually not very hot but sweet and sour instead and it's quite common to find a jar sitting next to the other condiments. 

I can't tell you which kind of heat-less green chili we use in Malaysia. Most recipes there will simply list the ingredient as green chili because as far as we're concerned, there are only red and green chilies. But I'll tell you that when I make this here, I use either jalapeno or serrano chilies (below) with a preference for the latter because I like the sharper heat. 

Since I'm new to the world of peppers here, I'm playing it safe and went with two of the most widely available varieties. If Peppers of the Americas (see below) is anything to go by, there's a lot more for me to discover.

To put things into perspective, allow me to borrow some words from the author of the book, Maricel E. Presilla: "I think of the jalapeno as the chicken of the pepper world, since US cooks who need a substitute for any other hard-to-find hot pepper routinely turn to it as a safe backup. Mexicans might prefer the sharper, cleaner heat of serranos to make salsa crudas (uncooked table sauces), but they love the fleshy, larger, and somewhat sweeter fresh jalapeno as a vegetable."

Whichever you choose to use, pickled green chilies are a delicious condiment to have on hand. I especially love them with Asian noodles but they are also great in sandwiches (just like the usual pickle but with a bit of kick), salads, and as pizza toppings. 

How to Make Pickled Green Chilies

You will need: 
6-7 serrano or jalapeno chilies
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
A jar with lid

1. Wash the chilies and pat dry. Slice them into 1/8-inch thick. To deseed the chilies, place the sliced chilies in a colander and shake vigorously over the sink. It helps to hit the side of the colander against the wall of the sink to help remove as many seeds as possible. 

2. Blanch the sliced chilies in hot water for about 10-15 seconds and drain. Set aside.

3. In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the white vinegar, sugar, and salt. Stir until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. 

4. Pour the vinegar mixture into a jar and add the sliced chilies. Cover and leave overnight or at least 1-2 hours. The pickled chilies will turn a lighter shade of green. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. They get better with time!

Use it! Pickled green chilies are often enjoyed with noodles. Try Malaysian Soy Sauce Noodles.

The Pepper Lessons
When I was living in Malaysia, I only knew chilies by their color and size: green, red, and the tiny, pointy red devils we know as cili padi. I never learned their names or cultivars until I moved to California. And then I found out that we also call a particular meat stew chili here! What?

To complicate things further, I have to remember to spell it with a single "l" instead of two. Pardon me if you find variations of the spelling on this blog. According to The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, while UK English spells chilli, it is chili in the USA and chile in Spain. 

Since we're on the subject, I knew bell pepper as capsicum and only referred to pepper as the seasoning in a shaker that always sat next to salt. You can tell I was really confused! Can you imagine how thrilled I was when a new book entirely focused on peppers was released?

In Peppers of the Americas, award-winning chef, author, and culinary historian Maricel E. Presilla explains that instead of using "capsicum" as adopted by the British, she prefers to use the more neutral English word "pepper" with flavor qualifiers, "such as hot or sweet, and appropriate regional labels."

The book is an essential reference filled with fascinating historical information, useful descriptions alongside great photos, and even gardening tips and recipes. I learned that the Portuguese were responsible for bringing hot peppers to Malaysia through their outpost in Malacca (a coastal state in the peninsula that was part of the Portuguese colony for more than 100 years in the 16th century) and that we didn't have many cultivars but the tiny bird pepper I mentioned above has been the most popular. 

The history of peppers in the USA does not appear to be as easy to trace. This article by a travel writer poses, with the help of Mark Miller, author of The Great Chile Book, that "it is likely that Native Indians ate chilies despite their records only referring to corn", but "chili pepper became widespread in the United States during the slave trade". 

Presilla stated that while she was researching this book that "the US pepper scene began changing along with emigration from many parts of Latin America." I'm excited to know that my chili options have grown beyond green and red. With the help of this book, I look forward to spicing up my cooking here!

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 DISCLOSURE: I received this book from Blogging for Books. All words and opinions are my own, and I only recommend products and brands that I trust. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!
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Shallot oil is the unsung hero in simple Asian cooking, the secret piece to that "I-love-it-but-I-don't-know-what-it-is" puzzle (true story). Simply put, it is oil infused with the aromatic shallot that can easily be made by frying sliced shallots and then preserving the oil.

The fragrant oil can be used in stir-fries in place of normal oil or drizzled over soups. It is in fact a vital flavor in the Malaysian soy sauce noodles known as Kon Loh Mee and really ups the flavor in the minimal Asian-style blanched vegetables

Let's not forget the crispy fried shallots that come out of the simple process of making shallot oil. These tasty crunchy bits are your secret weapon to dressing up fried rice, noodles, soups, vegetable dishes, and even salads. 

Shallot is the onion of Southeast Asian cooking. Known as "bawang merah" in Malay, meaning red onion, it is an important ingredient in the Malaysian spice paste called "rempah", which I use to make beetroot rendang and spicy tomato. It is a member of the onion family but is smaller in size, light purple in color with papery copper skin, and has the shape of a garlic clove. 

You will need: 2 large shallots + 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying.

1. Peel the shallots, rinse under running water, and pat dry. Slice them thinly on the cross section.

2. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Test the oil by putting a slice of shallot in. When it starts to sizzle, add the rest of the sliced shallots and lower the heat to medium. 

3. Fry the sliced shallots, stirring occasionally, until they start to turn golden. The oil should sizzle gently around the shallots. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat. It's important to pay attention to this step to prevent burning, which will make the shallots and oil bitter. 

4. When most of the sliced shallots have turned from golden to brown, turn off the heat. Let the shallots sit in the oil and continue to fry until they turn a darker brown color. This process can take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes. 

5. Remove the shallots from the oil and drain in a metal strainer. Spread the fried shallots on a plate lined with paper towel to dry and cool. Store the shallots in an airtight container. 

6. Allow the oil to cool and then strain it. Store the oil in a covered jar. 

Use it! Shallot oil and crispy shallots are used in making Malaysian Soy Sauce Noodles (below).

Use shallot oil in place of normal oil in the following dishes:
Pineapple Fried Cauliflower Rice
Beet Green Ginger Stir-Fry
Green Garlic and Spring Onion Fried Farro
Asian Greens with Garlic

Crispy shallots can be added to:
Five Spice Taro Rice (above)
ABC Soup
Coconut Oil Jasmine Rice
Chinese Turnip Cake
Egg Flower Soup with Leeks
Brown Rice Porridge
Economy Soy Sauce Stir-Fried Noodles

 

Follow along my food adventures on FacebookInstagramTwitterYouTube, and Pinterest. You can also sign up for email updates here

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Shallot oil is that unsung hero in simple Asian cooking, the secret piece to that "I-love-it-but-I-don't-know-what-it-is" puzzle (true story). Simply put, it is oil infused with the aromatic shallot that can easily be made by frying sliced shallots and then preserving the oil.

The fragrant oil can be used in stir-fries in place of normal oil or drizzled over soups. It is in fact a vital flavor in the Malaysian soy sauce noodles known as Kon Loh Mee and really ups the flavor in the minimal Asian-style blanched vegetables

Let's not forget the crispy fried shallots that come out of the simple process of making shallot oil. These tasty crunchy bits are your secret weapon to dressing up fried rice, noodles, soups, vegetable dishes, and even salads. 

Shallot is the onion of Southeast Asian cooking. Known as "bawang merah" in Malay, meaning red onion, it is an important ingredient in the Malaysian spice paste called "rempah", which I use to make beetroot rendang and spicy tomato. It is a member of the onion family but is smaller in size, light purple in color with papery copper skin, and has the shape of a garlic clove. 

You will need: 2 large shallots + 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying.

1. Peel the shallots, rinse under running water, and pat dry. Slice them thinly on the cross section.

2. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Test the oil by putting a slice of shallot in. When it starts to sizzle, add the rest of the sliced shallots and lower the heat to medium. 

3. Fry the sliced shallots, stirring occasionally, until they start to turn golden. The oil should sizzle gently around the shallots. If they brown too quickly, lower the heat. It's important to pay attention to this step to prevent burning, which will make the shallots and oil bitter. 

4. When most of the sliced shallots have turned from golden to brown, turn off the heat. Let the shallots sit in the oil and continue to fry until they turn a darker brown color. This process can take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes. 

5. Remove the shallots from the oil and drain in a metal strainer. Spread the fried shallots on a plate lined with paper towel to dry and cool. Store the shallots in an airtight container. 

6. Allow the oil to cool and then strain it. Store the oil in a covered jar. 

Use it! Shallot oil and crispy shallots are used in making Malaysian Soy Sauce Noodles (below).

Use shallot oil in place of normal oil in the following dishes:
Pineapple Fried Cauliflower Rice
Beet Green Ginger Stir-Fry
Green Garlic and Spring Onion Fried Farro
Asian Greens with Garlic

Crispy shallots can be added to:
Five Spice Taro Rice (above)
ABC Soup
Coconut Oil Jasmine Rice
Chinese Turnip Cake
Egg Flower Soup with Leeks
Brown Rice Porridge
Economy Soy Sauce Stir-Fried Noodles

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Did you know that there are believed to be more than 1,500 varieties of figs in the world? The first time I had a fig and fell in love with it was in Turkey. It was one of the dark skin varieties, Mission or Brown Turkey, which to me at that time was mysterious and exotic. The love affair continued when I moved to a house in California with an old fig tree that produces little green figs called Kadota. 

I learned to identify the types of figs I was eating, even when they were dried. It wasn't much later that I realized my family in Malaysia had been cooking with dried figs, particularly to make herbal soups, and that I was enjoying these elixirs without knowing the presence of figs in them. The recipe I'm sharing today, although much simplified in terms of ingredients, is a tribute to that tradition. 

I know Chinese dried figs as "mouh fa gwo" in Cantonese. Unlike the ones I enjoy here, they are pale in color and not very sweet, which is probably why they were mainly used in cooking. For this recipe, I used dried golden figs by Valley Fig Growers, acquired during a visit to one of their farms in Fresno, CA. The trip deepened my love and understanding of this most alluring fruit and I'd like to share what I've learned with you. So before we get to the recipe, here are some highlights from the trip!

Valley Fig Growers California Fig Road Trip

It was an extremely hot day when we visited a Valley Fig Growers farm in Fresno, and we learned from farmer Ken (above) that figs thrive in the valley's long, hot, dry summer. There were about 300 trees in his seven-acre farm, most of them of the Calimyrna variety and planted sometime around the early 1900s. That's more than a hundred years old!

According to the Valley Fig Growers website, all of the commercially sold dried figs produced in the US are grown in the Fresno area and north, in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. California apparently produces all of the country's dried figs and 98% of the fresh figs.

Calimyrna figs (above) have yellow to green skin with gorgeous pinkish flesh. They are sweet with a distinctive nutty flavor. The fruit originated in Turkey, where it's called Smyrna after the famous ancient city and was dubbed Calimyrna when we started growing them in California in the late 1800's. 

The other popular variety, mission figs, identifiable by their dark purple skin, succeeded Calimyrna when they came to California with the 16th century Spanish missionaries, hence the name. 

I learned that these fig trees have no blossoms on their branches and that the fruits are actually inverted flowers that produce those tiny crunchy seeds that give figs their unique texture. They are pollinated by tiny wasps no bigger than fruit flies. 

When dried, Calimyrna figs turn a golden color. Gary, the president of the Valley Fig Growers company, found some sun-dried figs on one of the trees (above) and introduced them as "fig jerky." They sure tasted of the sun! 

Harvesting on the farm is all done by hand. The figs are allowed to fully ripen on the trees and fall to the ground naturally. They are then painstakingly picked by hand and collected in buckets and later transferred to wooden containers to be transported for the next steps of the process. 

Look at all those figs! When we asked farmer Ken to tell us his favorite way of eating figs, he said "out of the bag". Dried figs are indeed a convenient way to enjoy the fruit all year round. Did you know that half a cup of figs has as much calcium as half a cup of milk? And let's not forget they are rich in vital vitamins and minerals and are a good source of soluble fiber! 

Fig Tasting
In addition to the Calimyrnas from the farm, we also had a chance to sample other types of figs, bringing me a few steps closer to trying all the varieties in the world!





Black Mission is perhaps the most widely available variety in both fresh and dried forms. The slightly elongated Brown Turkey is a large fig, loved for its juicy sweetness but not a good variety to be dried, we were informed. 

The most common green fig I was told is the Kadota, which is believed to be thousands of years old. A newer green variety is the very similar looking and super luscious Sierra. As a big fan of figs, I liked them all but a quick survey showed Sierra to be a popular choice at the tasting. 

Do you have a favorite fig variety? Let me know in the comments below!

A Recipe with Asian Roots
The tradition of making Chinese soups, or tong, by slow cooking a balance of ingredients for health and medicinal purposes has been ingrained in me since I was young. This simple sweet soup, or tong sui, is naturally sweetened by simmering Asian pears, apples, and dried golden figs together.

If you can get your hands on some sweet apricot kernels (pictured in the bottom right bowl in the photo below), throw them in for they add a pleasant almond-like aroma and crunch. They can be found at Chinese herbal stores and may be labeled as Chinese almonds. Do note that apricot kernels come in two varieties, sweet and bitter. Make sure to get the sweet variety as the bitter variety can be mildly toxic when prepared incorrectly. 

Asian Pear and Dried Fig Soup
A simple Chinese-style sweet soup or tong sui made of fresh fruits simmered together with dried golden figs. Serves 4. 

6 cups water
2 medium Asian pears, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
6 small to medium dried golden figs (such as Calimyrna)
1 tablespoon sweet apricot kernels (optional)

In a large pot, place water with the pears, apples, dried figs, and sweet apricot kernels (if using). Bring to a boil over high heat. Then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 1 hour. The fruits should be completely soft but still hold their shape. Serve hot or at room temperature. 
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