A celebration of local flavours

Celebrate Merdeka with some locally-infused recipes. Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

The recipes featured today pay tribute to Malaysia, which turns sixty-three this month. It may not be a milestone birthday, but there’s no reason we cannot celebrate Merdeka Day during the Covid-19 crisis, albeit on a small scale, at home and while sticking to safe practices.


Makes about 30 cookies

This cookie is made like Italian rainbow cookies, but with the four colours of the Malaysian flag.

The layers are sandwiched together with jam. This recipe uses apricot jam, but feel free to use a flavour you like. I’ve tried with kaya, but it just doesn’t have the stickiness of jam.

The best size of baking tin to use is 18cm square. A 21cm tin will also work, although the cookie layers will be thinner. If you only have one tin, bake the layers in batches. Keep the raw cookie batter in the fridge while the other layers bake.

3 eggs, separated

210g sugar, divided

210g butter, softened

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

150g almond meal (ground almonds)

150g all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

yellow, red and blue food dye (liquid or gel)

8 tbsp apricot jam

100g chocolate

3/4 tsp corn syrup or honeyLine a shallow 18cm square baking pan with baking paper, with two opposite sides overhanging. (If you have more than one tin, bake more cookie layers at the same time.) Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

With electric beaters, whip egg whites until they form soft peaks. Continue beating and add 3 tbsp of sugar slowly. Whisk until the meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks.

Place butter in another mixing bowl. Using the same egg beaters, whip butter and remaining sugar until pale and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Beat in yolks and vanilla until combined, 1 minute. Combine almond meal, flour and salt. Fold into the butter mixture. Stir a third of the egg whites into the butter mixture to loosen, then fold in the rest of the whites.

Divide batter into four equal parts, about 200g each. Colour one portion red, another blue and the third, yellow (about 1/2 tsp liquid or 1/4 tsp gel). Leave the last portion natural.

Place one colour of batter into the prepared pan and bake for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still soft; it will firm up while cooling. Remove from oven and from the pan, and cool on a wire rack (leave the baking paper on). Repeat with the remaining colours.

Warm the apricot jam to loosen it.

Line a tray or large platter with grease-proof paper or a silicon mat and upturn the red layer onto it. Peel off the baking paper. Spread with a thin layer of jam. Repeat with the white, blue and yellow layers.

Cover with cling film and place a tray or baking pan on top of the cling film and weight it down with something heavy (for example, tins of food) to press the layers together. Refrigerate for 8 hours.

Melt the chocolate with the corn syrup or honey in a heatproof bowl over barely simmering water. Remove cling film and spread half the chocolate on the top layer. Chill. When the chocolate is set (20-30 minutes), invert the whole slab and spread the top with the remaining chocolate. Chill until set.

Trim the edges and cut into 4cm by 1.5cm slices.


Serves 4-6

I readily admit to being intimidated by deep-frying, so I use the oven a lot. I was happy to find out about a common ingredient that makes baked chicken wings crispy: baking powder (not baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate), which dries out the skin and helps it crisp.

This recipe is based on ayam percik, which is grilled chicken basted with a coconut milk-based marinade. We’ve taken the Kelantan dish and turned it into buffalo wings tossed in a glaze with the same flavour profile as the traditional marinade.

Crispy baked chicken wings

1kg whole chicken wings

1 tbsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp white pepper

Ayam percik glaze

3-4 dried chillies, soaked in hot water to soften

4 shallots, peeled

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/4 tsp belacan (dried shrimp paste)

125ml thick santan (coconut cream)

1/2 tbsp seedless tamarind paste

3 fenugreek seeds

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp palm sugar

1 tsp rice flour

Cut through the two joints of each wing to separate them into drumettes, wingettes and tips. Use the first two portions for this recipe. Keep the tips for another use, such as to make stock.

Clean the chicken pieces and pat dry. Place them in a large bowl.

Mix the baking powder, salt, pepper and turmeric powder. Add to the bowl of wings and toss to coat them evenly.

Preheat the oven at 210ºC.

Line a baking tray with foil. If you have a metal grill rack that sits in the tray, oil it and place it over the foil. The rack allows heat to circulate under the chicken pieces.

Place the wing pieces in a single layer on the oven tray (or grill rack). Bake, turning them every 15 minutes, until browned and crisp, 45-60 minutes.

While the wings are baking, make the glaze. Blend the chillies, shallots, garlic and belacan with a little santan. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan with the remaining coconut cream, tamarind paste, fenugreek seeds, turmeric, salt, palm sugar and rice flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the marinade thickens and a layer of oil appears on the surface, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Place the wing pieces in a large bowl. Add some of the glaze and toss so the wings are well but thinly coated. Serve immediately with any remaining glaze on the side.


Serves 4

This dish is inspired by Jamaican salt cod fritters, but in this version, the flavour is a salute to South Indian salted fish curry. The curry is usually cooked with mochakottai (a high protein bean), but unfortunately the broad beans could not be incorporated in the croquettes.

Salted ikan kurau is used as it is meaty and has few bones so it’s easy to pick through the flesh.

150g salted ikan kurau (threadfin)

300g orange sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced

80g breadcrumbs

1/2 tbsp chilli powder

1 tbsp fish curry powder

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

2 long red chillies, finely chopped

3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

oil, for shallow-frying

calamansi limes, halved

Soak the salted fish in water until tender, changing the water 3-4 times during the process. Place the salted fish in a large saucepan, pour in just enough water to cover the fish and poach for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

Remove the skin and any bones from the fish and discard, together with the poaching liquid. Flake the flesh. Set aside.

Cook the sweet potato slices in enough water to cover them completely. Drain and mash.

Combine all the ingredients except the oil and limes. Using one-tablespoon portions of the mixture, make torpedo-shaped croquettes.

Heat the oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat and fry the croquettes until golden; drain well. Serve with lime halves and Sriracha garlic mayonnaise.

Sriracha garlic mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp Sriracha sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

Combine all the ingredients.


Serves 4

Pearl meatballs, the more festive name for these rice balls, are a special-occasion dish often served at banquet dinners for Chinese New Year and birthdays. The meatballs are coated with white short-grain rice or glutinous rice, and the resemblance to a pearl is how the dish got its name.

The recipe here is deconstructed Hainanese chicken rice, re-imagined as an appetiser or dimsum item.

250g white rice

500g ground chicken

4 spring onions, chopped

5 tinned water chestnuts, chopped

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp light soy sauce

1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

3 cloves garlic, minced

2cm knob fresh ginger, minced

salt and white pepper, to taste

1 tbsp cornflour

Wash the rice and soak in cold water for 30 minutes. Drain well.

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Mix until well combined.

Roll one-tablespoon portions of the mixture into balls. Roll each ball over the rice to coat.

Place the rice balls on a heatproof plate/steaming rack lined with parchment paper or bamboo leaves in a single layer and spaced 1cm apart.

Steam rice balls over boiling water until cooked through and rice is tender, 20-25 minutes. Serve with chilli sauce.

Chilli garlic sauce

6 red chillies, seeded

5 cloves garlic, peeled

2cm knob fresh ginger, peeled

3-4 tbsp calamansi lime juice

sugar and salt, to taste

Blend the chillies, garlic and ginger together. Add lime juice, sugar and salt to taste.

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