Although she is now an adult with two children of her own, Tengku Maizura Tengku Ishak has incredibly fond memories of her family’s Hari Raya cooking preparations in Negri Sembilan. Tutored under the watchful eye of her mother and grandmother from the time she was 10, Maizura says as a child, she thoroughly enjoyed making lemang, kuih bahulu and even helping to slaughter chickens!
“We were put on duty to do certain things. Like I was in charge of the chicken and cutting up all the spices and onions and chillies and my sister was in charge of the santan, which it is quite a rigorous process, because the concentration of the santan is very important.
“We even had a coconut grater contraption where you sit on a bench and the grater is attached to the bench. Actually, I don’t think it’s very safe for kids, but I used to grate the coconut all the time with my grandmother when I was very small, ” she says, laughing.
Now that her mother has passed away, Maizura says she is the one holding on to tradition and cooking all the festive dishes, as her elderly father likes to eat all the things his late wife used to make.
“We always make rendang daging and rendang ayam with kuah kacang. And we also have sambal tumis, pulut kuning and nasi impit – these are the staples, ” she says.
Maizura says her mother’s kuah kacang is quite unique because instead of just containing the usual peanuts, her recipe calls for little bits of chicken as well.
“We cut chicken into bite-size pieces and put it in the kuah kacang. Because of the chicken, it is really something very special. Even though some people don’t like chicken or whatever, once they taste the kuah kacang, they will ask me for the recipe. So that was my mum’s specialty, ” she says.
Perhaps the most integral dish during Raya for Maizura is her family’s rendang daging and rendang ayam, both of which require so much work that her family spends hours standing over the stove to perfect these heirloom dishes.
In fact, her mother was do dedicated to getting the rendang just right that a few years before she died, she spent well over RM2,000 on a santan-squeezing machine so she could get the perfect concentration of coconut milk, and with the aid of the machine, even helped neighbours and relatives attain the coconut milk for their own Hari Raya dishes!
“I think for my family, the most important is the rendang daging and rendang ayam. It really isn’t Raya without rendang!
“So the ritual is that the day before Hari Raya (called hari Bantai in Negri Sembilan), we will blend everything and prepare all the ingredients. For the rendang ayam, we use about three chickens and for the rendang daging, we normally use three kilos of beef and we also sometimes make another rendang with the cow innards (liver and lungs) which older people really like.
“So we will segregate the ingredients for each dish and cook one by one, so the whole day, we will just be slaving over the hot stove. And I know nowadays, you can just make a rendang in a Thermomix or pressure cooker, but when I was growing up, the joy of making rendang was that feeling of your mum teaching you how to make it from scratch. I think it is something I realise now that my mum is gone, ” she says.
This year, Maizura expects to have a much quieter Hari Raya (normally they have at least 100 people over) but she is still excited about cooking all the usual Hari Raya staples for her family, and hopes to eventually impart the recipes to her two young daughters once they are a little older.
“I think it is very true that you cannot let all these things die, ” she says.
10 stalks lemongrass, blended
5cm ginger, pounded
5cm galangal, pounded
7cm turmeric, pounded
15 cili padi, blended
30 dried chillies, blended
10 red onions, blended
20 shallots, blended
2 heads garlic, blended
3 tbsp curry powder, mixed with water
1 1/2kg beef, cubed
2 tbsp gula Melaka
salt to taste
1 heaped tbsp kerisik (toasted, pounded grated coconut)
3kg thick coconut milk
6 to 8 small limes, juiced
a few daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaves)
In a wok, fry blended lemongrass, ginger, galangal, turmeric, cili padi and dried chillies without oil until all the liquid has evaporated. When the mixture is dry, add some cooking oil. Stir for awhile, then add blended onions, shallot and garlic. Stir until mixture is dry-ish.
Add curry powder, stir to combine, then add beef, gula Melaka and salt. Stir and allow the juices from the meat to seep out. Add kerisik and stir evenly into rendang.
When the meat juices have reduced, add thick coconut milk. Stir and let simmer for 30 to 40 minutes or until the mixture has thickened and there is not much liquid. Add the lime juice and daun limau purut and stir to mix evenly. Serve hot or let cool and freeze until required.