On the Trail of the Phoenix – Kangkong Masak Lemak
Peranakan cooking is often thought to be complicated, elaborated, time-consuming and difficult to learn. Well, this is what many people think and some, expound or expect others to think. Yes there are indeed dishes in straits chinese cooking that have long ingredient lists and/or require more time to prepare and cook than others. But that is also true for most other cuisines which I know of. So the concept of the cuisine being “complex” and troublesome is to me much of a fallacy, perhaps used to instill some sense of apprehension or anxiety to newbies and the unwary, those who are approaching it for the first time. But this is often what I hear others describe Peranakan cooking to be. Sadly so, because in order to lead one to better appreciate the cuisine and hence the colourful culture underlying it, the last thing one wishes to hear is how intimidating and unapproachable it is. How should one embrace something which is so unachievable and intangible? So that the preparation of Peranakan dishes be left only to the exclusive who have inherited their ways of making from the grandmothers and bibiks of the faded past? It is a perpetuated thought by some that only through so, would the dishes remain “authentic”? Well， I choose to think otherwise…
There are a lot of simple dishes in Peranakan cooking, many which require much less time and effort to prepare than what had been described as being atrociously difficult. These would include dishes like kangkong masak lemak, ikan tempra, pong tauhu, udang masak nenas etc. Many of these simple dishes are cooked on a daily basis, and not just for the much-revered Tok Panjang. Afterall, how often does one hosts or attend a Tok Panjang at home? But surely one’s gotta eat everyday yeah? In fact, the ability to cook with ease, a table of dishes what may impress upon others to be difficult and painstakingly prepared, is what many would hope for. Minimal efforts to reap maximal sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Now that, is a true blue bibik’s secret if you ask me…
Kangkong Masak Lemak is a dish which we cook at home very frequently. Firstly, it is very easy to prepare as I always have a large batch of rempah made in a advance and frozen in smaller portions that allows me to cook a large variety of dishes which call for it. It can be used be for both beef and chicken rendang, laksa lemak, ikan asam pedas, ikan gerang asam and even sayur lodeh etc! It is very versatile, which is the beauty of it. Fuss-less freezing for a good bowl of pedas goodness on a rainy day.
And of course, it tastes really good! The umami flavours and aroma of the udang kering combines perfectly with the fresh santan used. Flavours which remind me very much of my mum and grandmother’s cooking. It would do very well with daon ubi kledek (sweet potato leaves) as well but I prefer the crunchy textures of kangkong. I could go with just the kuah (gravy) and a bowl of rice or two. Really sedap…
Kangkong Masak Lemak Recipe (serve 3-4)
1 bunch of kangkong (water convolvulus) appro. 400g
1/2 cup of udang kering (dried shrimp), soaked in water for 1-2 min and rinsed
8-10 medium prawns
1 cup of fresh santan pekat (concentrated coconut milk)
1-2 medium ubi kledek (sweet potatoes, preferably of orange variety), peeled and cut into large chunks
2-3 generous tbsp of generic rempah (detailed recipe see here)
2 tsp of toasted belacan (dried shrimp paste), crumbled into powdered form
2-3 tbsp cooking oil
2 cups of water
1 tbsp sugar
salt as required to taste
Pound or blend 1/2 the amount of dried shrimp to form a coarse floss. Keep the other half intact for more textural contrast. But one when one is really malas (lazy), one can always blitz everything into a floss.
Peel the prawns and retain their shells and heads.
To a heated wok, add 1 tbsp of cooking oil and saute the shrimp shells and heads until aromatic.
Add 2 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and simmer for 5 min.
Drain the mixture and retain the liquids. Set aside the prawn broth and discard shrimp heads and shells.
Add 2 tbsp cooking oil into the same wok and saute the generic rempah and toasted belacan powder until fragrant.
Add all the dried shrimp (flossed and intact whole) into the rempah and continue to saute until aromatic.
Add santan pekat and prawn broth to the rempah and bring everything to a boil.
Taste and season with sugar and salt.
Add chunks of ubi kledek and lower flame. Cook for 15-20 min or until the sweet potatoes are just soft.
Top up with more water or coconut milk if necessary.
Meanwhile, rinse kangkong and petek (pluck) the leaves from the stems.
Cut the stems into chunks and discard lower portions which are too tough and fibrous.
When the sweet potatoes are just soft, add kangkong stems first and stir fry for about 1 min or so, before adding the leaves and peeled prawns.
Stir fry for another 30s or so until the leaves just wilt and soften, and the prawns begin to turn pink and curls.
Taste and adjust with more salt or sugar if necessary.
Dish up and serve with other dishes like Pong Tauhu, Ayam or Telor Tempra, ikan goreng sama cili garam with nasik puteh chueh (steamed white rice)