In their cosy kitchen, Tunku Shariz Tunku Azmi and his wife Dr Maizatul Zolkapli are hard at work. The duo’s movements are graceful and dexterous – they never get in each other’s way, instead moving fluidly through the space to get things done.
While Tunku Shariz stirs the contents of a kuali, his wife carefully spoons batter into a mould. In between, they exchange warm, knowing smiles.
This scene is a replica of the one that will play out during Hari Raya, when husband and wife will cook all the family’s celebration dishes together with the help of their kitchen assistants – their children Tunku Maisara Tunku Shariz, 17, and Tunku Muhammad Raziq Tunku Shariz, 14.
Because Maizatul is originally from Perak and Tunku Shariz hails from Negri Sembilan, the two bring together their favourite dishes – whether that’s a family recipe or a state staple – for Hari Raya.
In the past, they often went back to Perak and Negri Sembilan for Hari Raya, but the couple isn’t sure if this will be possible this year. But even if inter-state travel is not allowed, they know they can pull off the Hari Raya food themselves, because they did it last year, even with some degree of trepidation.
“Last year because of the movement control order, cooking the Raya meal was a real challenge for us. Even though we knew how to cook all the food and we’d watched our elders numerous times, that was actually the first time we did it on our own, so I think that’s why we’re a bit more confident this year.
“Also if we don’t cook all these dishes, the kids will be asking, ‘Where’s the rendang?’ And we ourselves also want to taste the same things that we are used to, ” explains Tunku Shariz.
So come Hari Raya, Tunku Shahriz and Maizatul will be rolling out the usual heirloom staples that have provided their family with so much joy over the years.
Chief among these dishes is Maizatul’s family dish of rendang tok. The recipe is over 60 years old and her 71-year-old father inherited it from his uncle, who was the head cook in his village, tasked with cooking and taste-testing all the food prepared for weddings, kenduris and village feasts.
Rendang tok is generally acknowledged to originate from Perak and was reputedly developed by palace cooks, who concocted it for the royal family and eventually shared it with family and friends once they left their jobs.
The dish typically contains dried chilli paste and spices like cinnamon and cloves as well as copious amounts of coconut milk and kerisik. The key difference between a rendang tok and other forms of rendang is the cooking time, which depending on the volume of meat, can take anywhere from two to eight hours.
This is because the rendang is cooked slowly until it attains pecah minyak (oil surfaces) and then cooked some more until the gravy reduces and the rendang is very, very dry and turns a very dark brown shade.
“Last time, my dad would make about four or five kilos of beef rendang and would be cooking for hours, because in my family, he is the only one who cooks this rendang, although he taught it to me as well.
“I usually just make 1.5 kilos of rendang and even that takes three hours to prepare and cook for Hari Raya, ” says Maizatul.
Maizatul’s rendang tok is comfort food at its finest – tender, supple beef slices coated in a rich, dry, coconutey rendang paste that provides so much depth of flavour that one serving simply isn’t enough!
The other dish that always has to have a place on the family’s Hari Raya table is Tunku Shahriz’ treasured family dessert of kuih bakar pandan tok nyah, an heirloom recipe from his late grandmother which Maizatul eventually learnt how to make because he loves it so much!
Kuih bakar is a traditional Malay dessert that is sometimes also called kuih kemboja after the frangipani flower, because the old-fashioned moulds it was once baked in closely resembled the flower.
To make the batter, a mixture of eggs, flour, coconut milk, pandan leaf juice, ghee and sugar are mixed together until a runny batter forms. This mixture is dipped into moulds (or cake tins) and baked in the oven. In Tunku Shariz’s family, the kuih bakar is made using 60-year-old cast iron floral moulds that have pride of place in their family’s kampung home.
“The kuih bakar was a must-have in my grandmother’s house during Hari Raya. She always made a lot but there was never enough! When she passed away, we missed this delicacy so much that we wanted to revive the tradition of making it, ” says Tunku Shariz.
According to Maizatul, the main difference in the family recipe is the addition of ghee in the batter, which makes the kuih taste much richer.
“And the best thing about kuih bakar is the wonderful pandan smell that wafts through the house when it is baking. It smells so good and for me, that sort of sets the mood for Hari Raya, ” says Maizatul.
The family’s kuih bakar is delightful – a slightly crispy crust gives way to a plump, soft, lightly eggy interior laced with pandan flavours. The ghee in the concoction gives it a rich mouthfeel that lingers on the palate afterwards.
Although most of their Raya dishes are heritage meals, Tunku Shariz and Maizatul have also come up with something that is purely their own invention, a savoury lamb rice dish that they hope to teach their own children some day.
The couple’s recipe is inspired by nasi Arab and makes use of lamb, sun-dried tomatoes and spices. In keeping with modern times, it is cooked in a pressure cooker to save time.
“We thought it would be nice to have something besides ketupat or lemang on Hari Raya, because everyone gets sick of that.
“So this is a very simple one-pot dish, because for Raya, we try not to spend too much time in the kitchen, so this way, we can leave the dish to cook in the pressure cooker and entertain guests, ” says Tunku Shariz.
The rice dish is very, very flavourful – the lamb is incredibly tender and pliant and redolent of spices, while the rice has a slight sheen of oil without being overly rich. It is a very easy meal to enjoy, one where addiction is virtually guaranteed.
In many ways, Tunku Shariz and Maizatul say they love cooking up all these Raya dishes together as the experience is a small reminder of the large-scale gatherings and cooking rituals they both grew up with in their kampungs.
“This exercise usually brings the family together. We both work all the time, so cooking together for Hari Raya reminds us of the old days when we were young and life was simpler and everyone got together like this, ” says Tunku Shariz.
KUIH BAKAR PANDAN TOK NYA
8 pandan leaves
1/2 cup water
4 Grade A eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup wheat flour
2 tbsp ghee, melted
pinch of salt
In a blender, blend pandan leaves and water. Strain mixture to extract pandan juice.
Pre-heat oven to 180°C using lower element only.
In a large bowl, add eggs and sugar and stir until sugar is semi-dissolved. Then add pandan juice and coconut milk and mix.
Keep stirring slowly and gently until all the sugar is dissolved. Do not whisk as this will create air in the mixture.
Strain the mixture into a clean bowl. Add flour and stir slowly until completely immersed. Strain again to separate any lumps. Move batter to a clean bowl, and stir ghee and salt into the mixture.
Put the kemboja moulds (or cake pan) into the oven for 15 minutes. Once removed from the oven, grease the moulds with ghee to prevent the batter from sticking to the mould.
Pour about 4 ladles of batter into each mould, enough to fill ¾ of mould. For cake tin, batter should come up to about ¾ of height of tin.
Bake for 20 minutes and let cool before removing from moulds.
4 cinnammon sticks
5 to 6 star anise
For the rendang
5 to 6 yellow onions, peeled and blended
2 cloves garlic, peeled and blended
50g old ginger, blended and strained to remove liquid
50g galangal, blended and strained to remove liquid
10 stalks lemongrass, blended
5 tbsp cili boh (dried chilli paste)
5 buah keras (candlenuts), blended with a bit of water
125g meat curry powder
1.5kg beef, cut into 2cm cubes
1 litre coconut milk
60g palm sugar
5 daun kunyit (turmeric leaves), torn
1 asam keeping (tamarind slice)
8 tbsp kerisik (toasted, pounded
salt to taste
In a large wok, heat up 10 tbsp oil. Fry the cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom and cloves. Then fry onions, garlic, ginger paste, galangal paste, lemongrass, dried chilli paste and candlenuts until you get pecah minyak (a layer of oil emerges). This will take about 10 minutes.
Add curry powder and stir until powder is absorbed into mixture. Then add beef and mix well. Add coconut milk and ensure beef is submerged in coconut milk.
Add palm sugar, turmeric leaves and tamarind. Keep stirring until beef is tender and the rendang is very dry and dark (this will take nearly 2 hours). Then add in kerisik and salt and stir for 15 minutes until fully combined.
SAVOURY LAMB RICE
For marinating lamb
500g lamb chops
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp paprika
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 cinnammon sticks
2 star anise
8 cardamom pods
1 inch ginger julienned
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 ½ cups water
2 cups super long basmathi rice, soaked in water for 10 minutes and drain
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 tbsp concentrated chicken stock
5 pcs sun dried tomatoes, chopped + oil
coriander leaves and raisins for garnishing
Marinate lamb pieces with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper for 30 minutes.
Set pressure cooker to stir-fry mode, add 2 tbsp olive oil and brown the lamb on all sides. Remove from pot.
Then fry cinnamon, star anise, cardamom and cloves until aromatic. Next fry ginger, onions and garlic till tender.
Add lamb and water. Cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Then add rice, evaporated milk, chicken stock and sun-dried tomatoes. Mix well and cook on high pressure for 15 minutes. Once done, garnish with coriander leaves and raisins.
Note: This can also be cooked in a large pot if pressure cooker is unavailable.
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