On the Trail of the Phoenix – Kerabu Beehoon
As I’d mentioned on several occasions on this blog, Penang Peranakan cuisine differs quite significantly from their southern counterparts in Malacca and Singapore. The babas and nyonyas from the island state near the northern end of the peninsula has their own menu of dishes which are unique to their own culture. Perut Ikan, Inche Kabin, Jiu Hu Char and Kari Kapitan are just some examples. The art of kerabu making, inherited from Thai cuisine plays a significant part of the culinary repertoire of the Penang Peranakans. Kerabu Kacang Botol, Kerabu Hai Tay, Kerabu Bok Hnee are amongst my favorites. They are refreshing sides which can be served along with more hearty dishes, or good with just some ikan goreng and sambal belacan as part a simple meal. Speaking of simple meals, there is even Kerabu Beehoon which is perfect as one-dish meal on its own!
This is really a no-frills dish which takes less than 30 min to prepare! But it is really complete as a meal on its own, with all the carbs, proteins and greens necessary, not to mention the piquant flavours as a bonus! Almost fat-free, it is also very healthy, not to mention a rarity in Peranakan cooking!
The flexibility of a Penang Peranakan kerabu lies in the ingredients list. When one decides to be more lavish and indulgent, one could opt for a longer list of components and make the dish more “colourful” in all aspects of the word, visually, texturally and of course in flavours and aroma. But when one is in a rush or just wishes for something simple, the number of ingredients could be decreased to the state of almost being spartan. But there are a couple of things which a Penang Peranakan Kerabu, no matter how simple it is meant to be, would not be complete without, and that is bunga kantan, kerisik, bawang merah and of course sambal belacan. Make these basic arsenal available, and one is ready for some kerabu making.
Sambal belacan is quintessential in Peranakan cooking. It is usually enjoyed alongside a wide range of dishes as varied as Sek Bak and Jiu Hu Char, making it totally indispensable on the dining table. In kerabus, sambal belacan takes centrestage as the integral component in the “dressing”. Good sambal belacan is always made with a batu lesong. It is even said that one doesn’t have to taste in order to know how good someone is at cooking Peranakan cuisine, for all that is required is to listen to how the person pounds the ingredients using the batu lesong. Fact or fiction, I let it to you all to figure it out!
Kerabu Beehoon Recipe (served 2-3)
** Sambal Belacan Recipe
4-5 red chilies, cut finely
1 generous tbsp crushed toasted belacan
3-4 tbsp calamansi lime juice
Pound chilies with belacan using mortar and pestle until a fine paste is obtained.
Add lime juice and mix thoroughly.
Scoop up from mortar into a small bowl and set aside.
200g rice vermicelli (beehoon)
1 cup of beansprouts
1 piece of tau kwa (firm beancurd), cut into 1 cm cubes
6-8 medium prawns, peeled and halved with vein removed
4 shallots, peeled and sliced finely
1 stalk of lemongrass, lower white portion only, sliced finely
half a small cucumber, seeded and cut into matchsticks
2 red chilies, seeded and sliced finely
3-4 winged bean, sliced diagonally, finely (kacang botol)
3 hard-boiled eggs, halved
3-4 tbsp calamansi lime juice
3-4 generous tbsp sambal belacan** see above
1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
1 tsp salt (to taste)
3-4 generous tbsp kerisik (toasted grated coconut)
1-2 sprigs of coriander leaves, leaves and tender stalks only
1-2 stalks of mint leaves, leaves only
1 tbsp of oil (for pan frying tau kwa)
Add oil into a heated wok and pan-fry the tau kwa until all the sides are lightly brown. Drain away excess oil, dish into a plate and set aside.
Soak beehoon in slightly tepid water for about 30 min or so.
To cook beehoon, place soaked beehoon in a pot of boiling water for around 90s or so. Do not cook for too long or the bee hoon would become too soft and lose their springy texture.
Place the cooked beehoon in a sieve or colander and cool down under running water to prevent the strands from sticking together.
To the same pot of water, add beansprouts and blanch for 30s or so . Remove quickly and drain off excess water.
In the same pot of water, add peel prawns and cook until they JUST turn pink and remain succulent. Remove quickly and drain off excess water.
In a large mixing bowl, add cooked beehoon, cooked prawns, beansprouts, fried tau kwa, sliced lemongrass, sliced shallots, sliced kacang botol, sliced chilies, sliced cucumber, sliced bunga kantan, mint leaves, coriander leaves, kerisik.
To the small bowl of sambal belacan, add sugar and adjust taste with more salt.
Add calamansi lime juice to the mixture and stir slightly to dissolve the salt and sugar.
Drizzle the sambal belacan dressing over the large mixing bowl containing the ingredients and toss thoroughly until all the beehoon is well coated with the dressing.
Dish into a large plate and garnish with more kerisik, sliced shallots, sliced bunga kantan, mint and coriander leaves if desired.
Serve with halved hard-boiled eggs on the side, together with more halved calamansi limes and sambal belacan if required.