KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 4 — A brand new month, a brand new year. Time for fresh perspectives, in all aspects of our lives.
Being Malaysians, what better place to start than in the kitchen (and in our ever-ready bellies)? The challenge is figuring out what to cook and what to eat.
Cookbook author and food photographer Audrey Lim has the perfect solution: tapas, but with Malaysian flavours. So instead of albóndigas (Spanish meatballs), she suggests we try meatballs with tamarind chilli sauce. Replace puff-like empanadillas (pastries stuffed with meat) with a lighter Penang-style hae bi and pumpkin crostini.
According to Lim, the possibilities are endless. There are tapas to suit every occasion, and she should know, having hosted countless parties for family and friends over the years.
She says, “I’m a self-taught cook. I had attended hospitality school for two years but I picked up most of my cooking skills from watching my mother and grandmother in the kitchen during my childhood in Penang.”
Lim’s maternal grandmother taught her about Cantonese cuisine while her mother passed a love for Peranakan cooking down to her.
Her other influences include Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, and Kylie Kwong. Domestic goddesses seem to be the trend here but Lim observes the kitchen is the only domestic arena she has a calling for.
“The way I cook is stress-free and natural; I’m a ‘therapeutic’ cook,” she says. “House cleaning, laundry, ironing – those I don’t find therapeutic. Those things are not for me. Cooking is my passion and my creative outlet.”
Eight years ago, her family, who loved her cooking, encouraged her to document her dishes and recipes. A blog seemed the obvious solution. She recalls, “My brother-in-law Jeffrey came up with the name ‘Audrey Cooks’ and he bought me the domain audreycooks.com to celebrate the first time I hosted a big party.”
Lim’s blog soon attracted the attention of MPH Publishing’s senior consulting editor Oon Yeoh who left her a comment. “We got in touch and he suggested that I write a cookbook. He found out I took photographs of my own dishes and he asked me to shoot some of the MPH Masterclass Kitchen titles such as the cover for Sapna Anand’s New Indian Kitchen and the entirety of The Fat Spoon Cookbook by Michelle and Melissa Pong.”
When Lim prepares dishes for photoshoots, she still believes in cooking as though it’s for her family and guests. “Everything has to be edible, even the garnishing. I don’t use chemicals to finish off the dish when styling it so it looks prettier; that’s such a waste of food. Nothing is ever thrown away – everything gets eaten!”
Inspired by a trip to New Zealand, Lim’s philosophy in cooking, new recipes and photoshoots is to keep things simple. She says, “Life is simple in New Zealand; there is nothing complicated.”
This approach extends to the balanced lifestyle she advocates. “I’ll typically cook five days a week but rest on weekends, opting to eat out. We don’t have to be disciplined all the time; it’s okay to let go once in a while. For this cookbook, I focus on Malaysian flavours in small portions. I believe this is a healthy way of eating without sacrificing our enjoyment of the food.”
Cooking has taught Lim to embrace all the mistakes one must make along the way. She says, “As a cook, I realise I may never be the best person for a certain dish. There are others who are more professional. I may make a dish this way today, and a year from now in a different way. There is no one way to cook a dish.”
Lim is already working on her next cookbook, which will be inspired by her love of local culinary heritage. “Malaysia has such a rich food and cooking culture, yet internationally, it’s Thai, Singaporean and Chinese cuisine that gets the limelight. Hopefully I can do my part in showcasing our Malaysian flavours.”
Sounds like a tasty way to ring the new year. Selamat Tahun Baru, everybody!
NEW YEAR TAPAS
Here are two recipes by Audrey Lim for Malaysian-inspired tapas that are easy to make and guaranteed to be a hit with your guests anytime this brand new year. The spicy dried shrimp pumpkin crostini offers a bite-sized shot of Penang-style hae bi heat while the juicy lamb benefits from a subtle cencaluk flavour that is uniquely Malaccan.
Spicy dried shrimp pumpkin crostini
4 tablespoons dried shrimp (soaked, drained and lightly pounded)
800g cubed pumpkin
1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
A pinch of sea salt
1 loaf of baguette (thinly sliced)
Olive oil (for brushing the sliced baguette)
1 small bottle Japanese mayonnaise
A handful of small coriander leaves
2 finely sliced red bird-eye chillies (seeds removed)
1. Heat pan with olive oil. Sauté the dried shrimps till fragrant and add cubed pumpkin.
2. Add some dark soy sauce for colouring, dried chilli flakes and sea salt to taste.
3. Stir the pumpkin at intervals. Add some water if it’s too dry and continue to simmer till the pumpkin is soft and dry (approximately 10-15 minutes).
4. Brush some olive oil over the baguette slices. Toast them in the oven for 4-5 minutes and spread some pumpkin mixture over each slice.
5. Garnish with a tiny squeeze of Japanese mayonnaise, coriander leaves and sliced chillies.
Cencaluk lamb with Greek yoghurt coriander dip
(Serves 3 - 4)
Ingredients for lamb
Double rack of lamb (cut into individual bone - 16 pieces)
2 tablespoons cencaluk
Grape seed oil
Crushed black peppercorns
Sea salt to taste
Ingredients for dip
50g Greek yoghurt
A bunch of coriander leaves (chopped finely)
1. Pat pieces of lamb dry with disposable kitchen towels. Marinate with cencaluk over night in the fridge
2. Remove marinated lamb pieces from fridge and put aside at room temperature.
3. Heat up a pan with grape seed oil, lightly dust the lamb with some rice flour and place the pieces in a single layer in the sizzling hot oil. Season with some freshly crushed peppercorns. Turn the pieces over, giving them about a minute on each side. Season with sea salt to taste.
4. Mix the Greek yoghurt and chopped coriander leaves together. Serve as a dip for the lamb.
Audrey Lim’s Malaysian Tapas is out now at all major bookstores. For more information and recipes, visit www.audreycooks.com