Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Curry Chicken in Kaffir Lime Leaves

Firstly, I wanted to thank Nihal, the Mediterranean Turkish Cook for passing me this wonderful Lemonade Award that really cheered me up after a long bout of wheezings, coughings, sore throats and sleepless nights for the last few weeks! Çok, çok teşekküler, Nihal for this Lemonade Award! Also, what a coincidence that I was cooking another family recipe that I love so much from my mom that shared the same Citrus family as this lemony award!

I'm referring to this frequent cooked Kaffir Lime Curry Chicken in Southeast Asian homes where there were several versions from different countries even available online. This fragrant curry actually doesn't have kaffir lime juice in it but its evergreen fragrant leaves! Kaffir lime itself has very little juice compared to other Limes. Besides as culinary use, it plays very important part in local beliefs. In this recipe, I preferred the curry thicker or 'dry' as the local called it and to maximise the fragrant leaves, I julienned the kaffir lime leaves finely with a very sharp knife more than required and mixed into the curry instead of whole leaves as the norm. Traditionally, my mom would use an Indian terracotta pot to cook this curry but you can use your normal heavy pot. It's only slight difference in taste (though the terracotta gives out better taste.) Here's my version adapted from my mom's... :-D
Curry Chicken with Kaffir Lime Leaves
Serves 4-6 persons

600 g - 800 g Whole Chicken or your favourite Chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, etc)

To be pounded finely:
8 shallots
1 stalk Lemongrass - use only the white portion
4 pips Garlic
6 dried chillies
5 fresh red chillies
3 cm fresh Tumeric

Thumb-sized Galangal
10 pcs Kaffir Lime leaves
4 pieces Tamarind Slices
2-3 Tbl Cooking Oil
250 ml Fresh Thick Coconut Milk
Some water

1. Clean the chicken and cut into pieces. I preferred to remove the skin before cooking. If you don't bother, you can leave it on and remove skin later.
2. Smash the galangal with the back of a knife or you can use a pestle and mortar if you have it.
3. Soak dried chillies in warm water for 15 minutes or until soften.
4. Pound the shallots, garlic, fresh chillies, tumeric and dried chillies until fine. You can use a blender if it's more convenient.
5. Wash the Kaffir Lime leaves and cut off the hard middle stems. Roll the leaves up tightly and with a sharp knife, julienne the leaves finely.
6. Heat a deep pan or a wok until hot. Add the cooking oil and the pounded ingredients. Stir until fragrant.
7. Add the cut chicken pieces and stir. Make sure the chicken pieces are thoroughly coated with the spice mixture for about 5 minutes.
8. Add 1/4 cup water, tamarind pieces, galangal and the julienned kaffir lime leaves. Stir until the chicken pieces are well coated with the spices.
9. Pour in the fresh coconut milk. Stir and add salt to taste. Cover the pot or wok and turn the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Simmer until chicken meat thoroughly cooked.
This curry is great with rice, bread, naan, chapati or even as stuffings for buns, puffs, pies...

Note: I added very little water (sometimes non at all) as the chicken meat and coconut milk already contained some liquid. If you add more water, it would take longer time for the gravy or curry to thicken. Nevertheless, if you like more gravy, you can add more water :-) This curry is best eaten the day after - if you can stand it ... :-P Don't worry about the quantity of kaffir leaves used, it's not going to make the curry bitter. If you want, you can squeeze some Key Lime juices after stop the cooking. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fish In Tamarind Soup (Hoo Khong Asam)

Towards year ends, I always feeling nostalgic about my childhood (A Mother's Heart by William Joseph playing in the background :-P.) Since the passing of my parents in 2001, the memories of mom's cooking became more evident. She cooked with no written down recipes but from her memories of what she saw on TV, magazines or someone told her how to cook certain dish by word of mouth at the local fresh market. She was able to recreate dishes she liked when I took her out to dine at local eateries whenever I'm free from work. I'm proud of her abilities to cook just from such methods (or should I said from scratch?) because she only managed to study until 11 - 12 years old. Being the only child in her family and both her parents passed away in her early adulthood must have lead her to harness such skill to survive independently. Sad to say, until today I never seen pictures of my grandparents but my priority was to make my mom happy throughout her living years... :-)

Voila! All that aside... one of the dishes I missed from my mom is fish cooked in tamarind based soup. I would attacked 2 plates of plain rice soaked up to the brim with the soup! It's like drinking Assam Laksa soup with whole fish instead of deboned fish meat. The way to cook Assam Laksa is similar too but with lots of fish instead.

Actually, I don't know the origin of this dish we called 'Hoo Khong Assam' (Hokkien dialect.) It's been in my family as far as I could remember. It's quite confused because Southeast Asia is Cauldron of Cuisine that links with each other in some ways or another. As for me, I think this dish is similar to Thai's Gaeng Som as my mom is half-Thai. There are other versions using tamarind as the main ingredient like Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine's Gerang Asam which used candlenuts and Filipino's Sinigang. Since her version was not written down, I started from scratch as much I could recalled but this time with measurement and not estimates as most traditional Asian mothers would do :-D This recipe is all about taste and love of my mother that made it so special in my heart.

Fish In Tamarind Soup (Hoo Khong Asam)
Serves 4 -6

300 g -500 g Spanish Mackerel fish - cleaned and gutted

For the Soup:
3 - 6 pcs Tamarind slices
4 cm Fresh Tumeric - washed & roughly sliced or bruised
10 g -15 g Fresh Vietnamese Mint Leaves/Laksa Leaves-washed & trim leaves.
4 - 6 pcs Fresh Red Chillies or Bird's Eye Chillies
2-3 nos Tomatoes - quartered
5 - 10 nos Shallots - cleaned and roughly crushed
1 stalk Ginger Flower - remove stem & cut the flower bud into half or quarters
4 - 8 pcs Ladies Fingers (Okra) - washed and cut into halves
2 stalks Lemongrass - use only the white parts & lightly bruised
10 g Galangal - washed, remove dirt and bruised skin, sliced thinly
10 g Shrimp Paste (Belacan)
1 liter of Water
Salt and Sugar OR Fish Sauce to taste

1. Prepare all the vegetables and set aside.
2. Trim off the fins and tails. If the fish is large, cut into halves. Set aside.
3. In a pot, heat the water until it boils. Put in all the vegetables except Ladies Fingers/Okra and tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium and let it boils until the liquid changes color.
4. Add in the Ladies Fingers/Okra and Tomatoes.
5. Let the soup boils for few seconds and add in the fish.
6. Add in salt and sugar or Thai fish sauce to taste.
7. Continue to boil the soup until fish is cooked.
8. Serve hot with rice.

Notes: If you can find Belimbing Buluh or Belimbing Masam (Averrhoa Bilimbi) is even better to add sourness into the soup as Tamarind slices or Asam Gelugor (Garcinia atroviridis) considered by locals to be too strong for the stomach. Please use sparingly, if you're prone to gastric problems. I preferred to use seafood like fish or prawns for this recipe instead of meat. If you can't find Shrimp Paste or Belacan, you can omit it and adjust the taste with more Fish Sauce. Always remember to taste your cooking several times and adjust accordingly.

Happy Cooking!


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