Cooking from the #stayhome larder

Basic local pantry staples can be used to make hearty meals during the MCO. - Marco Verch/Flickr

You learn a lot about yourself when you’re isolated at home ... Did you know you can make coffee at home for yourself? It’s crazy, I even spelled my name right on the cup.– Late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel in his March 18 ‘quarantine minilogue’

DAY 13 into the movement control order and many Malaysians who previously only used to boil water for their 3-in-1 coffee and instant noodles are reportedly cooking for themselves more.

Some have said that it’s a headache trying to come up with ideas for three meals a day. It’s easy to revert to living off instant ramen, but it’s crucial to keep a relatively healthy diet. Hopefully, the following recipes will help.

None of them use fancy schmancy harissa or frozen blueberries – we’re sticking to good old Malaysian pantry staples. Often, fresh is best but some tinned and frozen food is just as good, so add items like tinned tomatoes and frozen peas to your cart on your next shopping trip.

Pantry essentials can be used to produce creative meals. - IVY SOON/The StarPantry essentials can be used to produce creative meals. - IVY SOON/The Star

For many, cooking is a great way to stave off cabin fever and if trying out something new helps, then why not?

Now might be the best time to learn how to make your own bread, for instance, a skill that won’t go to waste when the worse is over.

In these troubling times, keeping our spirits up is just as important as feeding ourselves.


Serves 4

An old-time snack recipe was fried patties made from leftover rice. Cooks would mix rice with herbs and spices, dried shrimp or ikan bilis (anchovies), and use flour as a binding agent. In this recipe, instead of flour, we’ve used bread.

2 slices stale bread, crusts removed

2 cups cooked rice

3 shallots, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 chilli (red or green), finely chopped

1 stalk green onion, sliced

2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked until soft then chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

cooking oil

Soak the bread in water until soft, about 1 minute. Gently squeeze out the water and place in a mixing bowl together with the rice, shallots, garlic, chilli, green onion, dried shrimp, salt and pepper. Shape into 16 patties.

Pour 1cm of cooking oil into a frying pan and fry the patties over medium heat until golden, 1-2 minutes per side.


Makes 6 servings

You can buy bags of ready mixed beans and lentils, but making your own mix is less expensive. Dal is a staple in many Malaysian pantries, so add a few other legumes and you’ll have a good source of protein and fibre, besides adding bulk to a dish.

In the recipe, the bean mix comprises red lentils, black eyed peas, green mung beans, red beans (adzuki) and small black beans.

Eat this stew on its own or use it as the base for other dishes simply by adding ingredients such as minced meat and vegetables. Ideas for three other dishes are given, including one made with that most staple of the Malaysian pantry, tinned sardines. All four recipes freeze well.

200g (about 1 cup) mixed dried legumes (see headnote)

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp canola oil or olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 (400g) tin tomatoes or 3-4 fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 stock cube (beef, chicken or vegetarian)

salt, black pepper and sugar, to taste

fresh lemon or lime juice

Soak the legumes in water overnight. Drain and put them in a pot, cover with water and bring to the boil. Add 1/2 tsp salt, turn down the heat and simmer until all the legumes are cooked. Drain, but keep the liquid.

In a large pot, heat the butter and oil. Over medium heat, cook the onion until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes; if using fresh tomatoes, add 3/4 cup legume cooking liquid. Stir in the stock cube and salt and pepper to taste. Depending on the tartness of the tomatoes, you may need to add some sugar. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover the pot and cook for 5 minutes or until the fresh tomatoes are soft.

Add the cooked legumes to the pot. Add more cooking liquid if you want a thinner stew. Cook for another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning and add juice to taste. Serve with crusty bread.

How to use the bean stew:

Beef and bean ragu

Heat 1 tbsp butter or oil in a large pot and add 180g minced beef and 1/4 tsp salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beef is browned. Add 1 1/2 cups of the bean stew and cook until warmed through. Serve over cooked pasta.

Sardine and bean pie with mash topping

Cook 600g sweet potatoes. Mash with 2 tbsp butter and 1/4 cup milk. Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat up a tin of sardines (the size to your preference) and 1-2 cups of bean stew in a pot. Add 1/4 cup each of frozen carrots and peas. If you like it hot, add some curry powder and chillies. Scoop mixture into a casserole dish and spoon on the sweet potato mash to cover. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup grated cheese. Preheat oven to 220℃. Bake pie until the topping is golden, 25-30 minutes.

Bean and vegetable curry

Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a pot and add 1 tsp mustard seeds. Cook over medium heat until seeds start to sputter, then add 2-3 dried chillies and 1 sprig curry leaves. Tip in 1/2 cup each of cauliflower florets and cubed pumpkin. Add a little water. Cover and cook until vegetables are tender. Add 1/2 tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and turmeric, then 1 1/2 cups of bean stew. Cook until warmed through. Adjust seasoning. Serve with rice or chapati.


Makes 16

Double or triple the amount and make a large batch of these dumplings as they freeze well. To freeze them, lay them out in one layer on a tray lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer. Once the dumplings are frozen, transfer them to a resealable plastic bag and store in the freezer for up to a month.

To cook, remove as many dumplings as you need from the freezer and place them on a plate in a single layer. Cover with cling film and leave in the fridge for about four hours.

The filling in the recipe is made with chicken, but use other proteins such as beef or pork instead. Half each of minced prawns and chicken is also a good combination. For meatless options, use a cup of finely diced shiitake mushrooms, mashed tofu or a combination of the two ingredients. Leek and chive dumplings are another way to go. As for the amount, replace the 250g of chicken with one cup of your preferred vegetarian option.

The potstickers in the recipe use the fry and steam method, but they can also be poached in a soup or steamed.

Dumpling wrappers

300g all-purpose flour

170-180ml warm water

1/4 tsp salt

Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add half the water and stir together to combine. Gradually add more water and mix until the flour starts clumping together. Cover the bowl and rest for 15 minutes, then knead the clumps together into a smooth, springy ball. Cover again and rest for 30 minutes.

Transfer the ball of dough to a work surface and divide into two equal portions. Roll each one out into a sausage and cut into eight pieces. Keep the dough pieces under a tea towel to prevent drying out.

Dust the work surface with flour. With a small rolling pin or a smooth bottle, flatten each piece of dough into a 10cm-wide circle, with the edges thinner than the centre.


250g (about 1 cup) minced chicken (see headnote for alternative proteins)

1/2 cup shredded cabbage

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

2 cloves garlic, pressed

2 green onions, thinly sliced

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp hoisin or oyster sauce

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

2 tsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 cup water

Hot chilli oil

1/4 cup dried red chillies, crushed

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large stalk green onion, finely sliced

2 tsp white sesame seeds

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp black vinegar

1/4 tsp sugar

In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients except the oil and water.

Place a heaped spoonful of filling in the centre of the potsticker wrapper and fold the dough over to form a half-moon shape. Seal the edges of the circle together, pleating them together if desired (with fresh dough, there’s no need to wet the edges first).

You may have to cook the dumplings in batches if your pan is not big enough. Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the dumplings in a single layer. When the bottom of the dumplings turn light brown, pour the water around them and immediately cover with a lid. When the water has evaporated completely, uncover and cook further so the bottoms turn crispy, 30-60 seconds. Serve with hot chilli oil.

To make hot chilli oil, place the chillies, garlic, green onion and sesame seeds in a heat-proof bowl. Heat vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Pour over the mixture in the bowl. Stir in soy sauce, vinegar and sugar.


Makes 2

This is a popular street food in India. It’s a parcel of savoury omelette wrapped around sandwich bread. Vendors using large metal hotplates make omelettes holding up to four slices of bread, but with our household kitchen skillets, we can probably only manage with one slice.

3 eggs

1/2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp chilli powder or garam masala

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

salt and pepper, to taste

1 green chilli, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 small bunch fresh coriander, chopped

2 slices sandwich bread

2 tbsp oil or ghee for frying

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the three powders. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in chilli, onion and half the coriander.

Heat 1 tbsp oil or ghee in a large skillet. Pour in half the egg mixture and swirl the pan around to make a thin omelette. Place a slice of bread on the unset egg, then flip the slice over so the egg-coated side is facing up and in the centre of the omelette. Cook the egg until the bottom is set and light brown, then fold the edges over the four sides of the bread. Flip the parcel so the seam side is down and cook for a further 30-40 seconds.

Transfer to a plate. Repeat with the ingredients. Sprinkle with more fresh coriander and serve with chilli sauce.

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