Food for the soul, and tummy






Signature dish: Chan said she had to think creatively when she was creating her vegetarian 
nasi lemak.

Signature dish: Chan said she had to think creatively when she was creating her vegetarian nasi lemak.

PETALING JAYA: For almost three decades, Chan Sook Han has been giving free classes on cooking vegetarian meals.

And despite reaching the age of 71 this year, the volunteer cook is showing no signs of slowing down.

“It also makes me happy that I am passing on my knowledge while pleasing others with my food.

“So I don’t see any reason why I should not go on. I’ll do it until I finally can’t one day,” said Chan, smiling.

She recalled what an old master at a temple, where she volunteered, had told her.

“He taught me to always demand excellence from myself no matter what I do,” she said.

Chan’s biggest task each year takes place on Labour Day when there is a blood donation drive held at the temple.

Come every May 1, Chan would get up at 3.30am to start preparing her signature vegetarian nasi lemak.

For this year’s event, she put together the meal for 4,000 people who were mostly donors, volunteers and visitors.

“It is no easy feat to plan, direct and manage the cooking for so many people but I feel happy doing it with the help of volunteers, especially when people tell me that they love my dish.

“I love cooking and serving delicious food.

“It is a form of charity and I am thankful for playing my part to make this annual event a success throughout the years,” said a jovial Chan in an interview.

Chan, who is a cooking instructor specialising in vegetarian dishes, began serving as a volunteer cook at the temple since 1992.

“Since cooking is my forte, I would cook and also teach other volunteers to do so in the food division,” said the grandmother of three, who has taught countless students and volunteers to cook at the temple.

Whenever her service is needed for any function at the temple, Chan, who is also the only vegetarian cooking instructor with the Selangor and Federal Territories Ku Su Shin Choong Hung Association, will be the one planning the menu, sourcing for the ingredients, organi­sing the cooking job and delegating other tasks on the day.

To make her vegetarian nasi lemak more appealing in taste and presentation, Chan said she had to think creatively.

“With no onion, garlic, fish or meat, it is challenging to bring out the flavours in the vegetarian version while retaining what a nasi lemak dish should have and look like.

“To replace the crunchy and fragrant ikan bilis, I used Chinese mushrooms, which are thinly sliced, flavoured, lightly battered and deep-fried.

“For the chicken curry, I made it with sweet beancurd skin and mushroom stalks,” said Chan, adding that she opted for natural and fresh ingredients and avoided using gluten, which is common in vegetarian dishes.

To help blood donors replenish their energy, Chan and her team would also prepare drinks by boiling red dates, dried longan and solo­mon’s seal rhizome (yu zhu).