Thursday, June 21, 2012

Penang Acar

Acar is a very typical Nyonya dish that will adrone the tables of any true-blue Peranakan in Malaysia. Acar is actually a Hindustani word for a spicy pickle.

In my hometown of Malaysia, this dish too is a pickle which is made up of various types of vegetables in a spicy sauce. Each Peranakan family would have their own family recipe where Acar is concerned. In fact the Acar found in Penang and that in Malacca varies as well. But whatever it is, it is delicious especially if eaten with rice.  Sometimes it is served together with Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice) another typical Malaysian dish.


However the process of puting this dish together is somewhat labourious and therefore you cannot compare the homemade version to that found sold in supermarkets. The ground spices need to be prepared and there is lot of cutting and slicing involved. But once the dish is put together, you will be glad that you had put in such an effort because it is really delicious!

In the days of my grandmother, I remember that she would make Acar quite often especially when Chinese New Year was around the corner.  In those days, a food processor was non-existent and a mortar and pestel was used instead.  The blanched and cut vegetables would be strewn out onto wooden weaved rattan baskets and dried under the sun before it was drenched in the spicy sauce.  Nowadays recipes of our grandmothers are shortened and quick-easy shortcuts are taken.  Thinking back I really do miss some of the dishes my grandmother had made!


Penang Acar
Makes about 2.5kg
Recipe Adapted from "Malaysian" by Betty Saw

Ingredients to be cut:

1.25kg cucumber, half lengthwise, center core removed and cut into 1.5" long strips
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1.5" long strips
300g long beans, cut into 1.5" length
500g chinese cabbage, cut into 2.5" square pieces
300g cauliflower, cut into bit size florets
600g roasted peanuts, skin removed, and coarsely grounded
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp salt
450ml white vinegar
180g sugar
500ml cooking oil

Ingredients to be grinded (A):

20 pieces dried chillies soaked to soften
6 red chillies

Ingredients to be grinded (B):

360g shallots, peeled
1 bulb garlic, peeled
1" piece fresh tumeric, peeled
1" piece fresh galangal, peeled
4 candlenuts


1) Place cucumber and carrot strips in a bowl.  Mix weall with 1 Tbsp salt and leave for 30 minutes.  Then wash thoroughly with water and drain. Using a piece of muslin cloth, squeeze out as much water as possible from the vegetable strips.

2) Half fill a large pot with water, add half of the vinegar and bring to a boil.  Add a pinch of salt to the water.  Then blanch the vegetables in batches for about 4 minutes.  Remove and transfer to a colander, drain well.

3) Lay the blanced vegetables out in the sun to dry for about 30 minutes.  If there is no sun, place them under a fan to dry out for about 90 minutes

4) Heat a large wok or large frying pan.  Add the oil and once hot, fry ground ingredients (A) for 2 minutes.  Then add in ground ingredients (B) and fry until fragrant and the oil separates - about 10 minutes.  Add remaining vinegar, sugar and 1 tsp of salt.  Stir in the peanuts and mix thoroughly.

5) Last add in the vegetables and stir well.  Keep acar overnight in the refrigerator for the flavours to develop.  To serve, dish out and add a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

* Acar can be kept in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.




Friday, June 8, 2012

Chocolate Coffee Flavoured Macarons

The urge to make macarons has struck me again.  I think I have to blame my girlfriend's daughter for this.  Her teenage daughter has been pestering me to give her a lesson in macarons.  I've been turning her down because I have not actually perfected the act as yet.  I have had my fair share of failures with cracked and burnt tops.  So in a way I really dare not commit until I have somewhat perfected this skill.

I shall not say that this time round I was successful as I did have about a quarter of my shells cracking. Even though they cracked the taste and flavour was still there.  The ones you see here in this post are the "better looking ones". 



Chocolate Coffee Flavoured Macarons

For the Shells:
110g powdered sugar

50g ground almonds

1 Tbsp dark cocoa powder
1/2 tsp espresso coffee powder
60g egg whites 
(about 2 eggs) *
35g granulated sugar
Cocoa nibs for topping, if desired

* Aged one day in room temperature.  If using fresh egg white, I would zap them in the microwave oven for about 12 seconds

8 oz dark chocolate, chopped coarsely

8 oz heavy cream

1 tsp Kahlua or coffee liquer


1) Prepare two baking sheets with parchment or silpats and set aside.

2) Add the powdered sugar, almond meal, cocoa and coffee powder to a food processor and process to a fine, even powder.  When done, sift the contents into a large mixing bowl to remove any last lumps. Throw out the lumps. If there are quite a lot of lumps, return all ingredients back to the processer and continue to grind until fine. 

3) Add the egg whites to a clean dry bowl and whisk until frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating until the meringue holds stiff peaks.

4) Add one half of the meringue to the mixing bowl containing the almond meal mix and gently fold in until just barely mixed using a silicon spatula. Add the remaining meringue and continue to gently fold until the batter looks like flowing lava. It should be thick but should still spread (about 50 folds in total)

5)  Pipe out circles of batter on the prepared baking sheets approximately 1.5” wide in diameter. Allow some distance between the piped circles for spreading. When finished piping, rap the baking sheets a couple of times on the counter firmly to allow any air bubbles to settle. Sprinkle cocoa nibs on half of the shells.

6) Preheat the oven to 160C. Set the pans aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the macarons to dry and a skin to form on top. Test by gently poking with your finger. The macarons will be ready when dry to the touch and your finger only leaves a slight impression. 

7) When ready, bake for 12-14 minutes and rotate the pans midway through to ensure even baking and coloration. Remove to a rack to cool.

8) For the ganache, bring the cream to a simmer over medium high heat in a small saucepan. Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. When the cream has reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and set aside for a minute or two until the chocolate is mostly melted. Add the liquer. Use a whisk or spatula to stir the ganache to a smooth consistency. Set aside to allow the ganache to set up or place it in the refrigerator to cool which will hasten the process.

9) When cool, spread your ganache or other filling on the flat side of a shell and sandwich with another, squeezing gently.  Allow the macaron to rest overnight in the refrigerator. The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to one week.



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