Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bank Holiday Asam Udang (Tamarind Prawns)

Crete is unforgiving.

As Professor Trefusis says in Stephen Fry’s The Liar, travel broadens the behind and my eight days on this craggy beaut of an island has certainly done that. Sixteen meals of carnivorous feasting was just mixed-grill pleasure.

And so I arrive back on bank holiday Monday - the depression of the Royal Wedding weekend - resolutely craving a week of Asian food. Craving Nonya food in fact.

Nonya flavours are magnificent. The wince of tart tamarind, against the salt-tang of shrimp paste. I grew up with those flavours - so glorious in Penang laksas and satay. The cuisine is the 600 year old offspring of Chinese merchants and local Malay women along the Malaysian Straits. Nonya originates from Malacca, but Singapore has some of the greatest Nonya food I know. Personally I think this is the best food in the world - and I don’t say this lightly - the best of both Chinese and South-East Asian worlds.

The things to have in your larder will be a block of tamarind, a bottle of shrimp paste, lemongrass, galangal and chillies - all readily available from your Chinese supermarket.

Unfortunately, bank holiday supermarkets are also unforgiving, so all I managed to pick up was a pack of raw prawns and I had to shave a lemon as I didn’t have any lemongrass.

Still, my hit has begun the process of unbroadening that behind.

Asam Udang (Tamarind Prawns)

Serves 2 and takes 15 minutes max

150g prawns - either legs trimmed off, or for convenience a packet of raw prawns (as pictured)

Sauce ingredients
1 onion sliced
1 stalk lemongrass - bruised (peel from 1 lemon, bruised, if you don’t have any)
4 birdseye chillies - red and green, deseeded and slit lengthways
1 generous tablespoon tamarind pulp mixed with 450ml boiling water
1/3 tablespoon shrimp paste
1 level tablespoon sugar
pinch salt

Push the pulp through a sieve and collect the water in a saucepan. Put the rest of the sauce ingredients into the saucepan.

Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes uncovered. Let the flavours get to know each other.

Add the prawns and simmer until just cooked.

Serve with rice and a generous helping of garlic broccoli with oyster sauce.


Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

oh, o glad to see someone else has that dreadful Sunday night - i've forgotten to do my homework - feeling!... and why not spice it up with some flavours to remind you of better times eh? Good stuff!

Lizzie said...

Although I didn't have this in Penang, I did have an assam laksa which was utterly delicious and totally addictive. This must be made next.

Helena Lee said...

Dom - totally true - it's all about nostalgic flavours, and they're so addictive too.

Lizzie - if you do make it let me know what you reckon, it's the simplest nonya recipe I've made yet!

Shu Han said...

I grew up with these flavours too (: And am absolutely with you about nonya food being the best. Those spices, those brilliant combination of sweet sour salty spicy.. yum. I often get carvings for good old peranakan food in London too(: this sounds great, much simpler than my attempt at making achar to get my nonya flavour fix.


Helena Lee said...

Thanks! Although my "simplification" of using lemon got a rap on the knuckles from my mother, who'll always have a stock of lemongrass.

LOVE achar. I've yet to find a good nyonya cookbook though, do you know any? I bought an "award winning" one in Singapore, but it just doesn't translate over here.

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