On the Trail of the Phoenix – Kerabu Belimbing Timun Nanas (Nyonya Spicy Fruit Salad)
When I first started learning to cook nonya dishes, I remember being immediately overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of some recipes. Tedious steps to follow, long and painstaking preparation, tiring rempah pounding, long list of ingredients to garner… are just some of the reasons which deterred many from trying to cook the dishes for themselves. Yes, peranakan cooking can be very patience-testing, obviously one of the many virtues I lack. But the results are often very rewarding, as its through these multi-step culinary “ordeals” that all those intricate nuances of flavours and textures were teased out, to which is what many of us enjoy about peranakan cooking.
Having said that, not all peranakan dishes are difficult to cook or troublesome to put together. Kerabu Belimbing Timum Nanas is one such recipe which is almost effortless to prepare and requires very little time to do so. It is served as a “palate refreshener”, marking contrast against the other robust and full-bodied flavour dishes, to make the latter lighter for the stomach, so that the whole meal would not be just about heft. Being spicy and tart at the same time, it is perfect “conditoner” to whet everyone’s appetites!
Like many peranakan dishes, every Straits Chinese family would have their own unique way of preparing it. But this dish is so simple that there isn’t exactly a dedicated recipe formulated for it. The ingredients bear the staples of nyonya cooking, with slight variations created depending on what’s available in the kitchen and more importantly, what the diners are “in the mood to eat” for that particular meal!
Kerabu Belimbing Timun Nanas (serves 6 – 8)
1/2 a pineapple
15-20 buah belimbing
1 tsp salt (for rubbing buah belimbing)
2 tbsp Sambal belachan (recipe here)
Cut buah belimbing into halves and dice small cubes and transfer to a bowl. Rub thoroughly with one tsp of salt and set aside for 30 min. Give the buah belimbing cubes a gentle squeeze to help work out the juices. Rinse thoroughly with tap water to remove salt. Repeat with one more squeeze and water rinse.
Cut cucumber longitudinally. Rub the two halves together until slight foaming occurs. Scoop out seeds with a teaspoon and rinse thoroughly. Cut each half into long strips and dice into small cubes, about the same size as the buah belimbing. Set aside.
Remove skin and “eyes” of pinapple and dice into cubes the sane isize as the buah belimbing. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix sambal belachan together with 2 tbsp of sugar. Set aside.
Transfer all the cut fruit and vegetable cubes into a mixing bowl. Pour sambal belachan dressing and give everything a good toss until the sugar dissolves.
I am blessed with 4 buah belimbing trees near my house which bear yellow fruits, and I know of another 2 trees in the eastern side of Singapore which produces green ones. What’s best is they flower and fruit all year round, especially after a period of hot and dry weather, so that I can have an almost ready supply of fruits for all my favorite peranakan dishes like Ikan Gerang Asam and Sambal Udang Berlimbing, If unavailable, partially ripen starfruit or granny smiths are excellent choices for the tart flavours.
Set aside the buah belimbing slices with salt is to allow maceration to occur. The buah belimbing lose some of its astringent juices via osmosis helps to make its sourish flavours more acceptable. Also, allow the belimbing to macerate prevents them from losing too much water later on when the kerabu is being assembled.
For the pineapple, I prefer to use those which are just short of a day or two from ripening. They already have the necessary sweetness in them via remaining fairly firm. But this is entirely a matter of personal preference. I like to use sweeter varieties like Sarawak or honey pineapples as well.
Both yellow and green varieties of buah belimbing can be used to make this kerabu. I used a mixture of both, with more yellow ones as they are more readily available for me. But I prefer green ones actually as they are crunchier, even after maceration and thus more desirable. I use the yellow variety in Ikan Gerang Asam.
Only half of the sugar is added into the sambal belachan mixture for the dressing. The remaining 2 tbsp can be added with discretion, depending on the level of sweetness one prefers
This kerabu is traditionally served with Nyonya mee, i.e. stir-fried noodles over family gatherings or festivities. But with ready-made sambal belachan in the fridge, I this kerabu fairly very frequently for regular meals as a simple and lazy “vegetable” dish. But remember to toss in the sambal belachan dressing only at the point of serving or the fruit pieces would leach too much juices causing the kerabu to appear very very wet. Having said that, and ironic it might seem, I like to refrigerate a small portion of the kerabu overnight and eat it cold the next day, the flavour and textural profile transformed remarkably and its like an entirely different dish altogether!
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Ayam Buah Keluak
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Nyonya Chap Chye
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Nyonya Apom Balik Durian
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Itek Tim
Makanan in Melaka 2011 – a Delightful Sampling
Melaka Getaway Dec 2011
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Pengat Durian
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Sambal Jantung Pisang
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Sambal Udang Belimbing
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Ikan Gerang Asam
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Nyonya porcelain ware @ the Peranakan Museum
On the Trail of the Phoenix – Babi Pongteh