I often think of the past 3 years in Hong Kong where I used to live.
Hong Kong remains dearly in my heart.
The busy hustling Causeway bay, beautiful repulse bay beach, riding old trams with locals, gorgeous HK view from the peak, Stanley market, restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong, Wan Chai Market, fancy designer shops, the quiet New Territory, many surrounding islands, and the food… Boy! It is so easy to indulge in food when you are in HK.
I miss them and I crave them all.
I have met so many wonderful people and learned to enjoy and respect this amazing city.
But out of all these exciting memories, there is one person that I often think of.
Her name is “Utari”.
She was my domestic helper.
She is from a small village near Surabaya, Indonesia. She was quiet, shy young girl who dreamed of having her own restaurant someday in her hometown. I don’t think I could have enjoyed HK as much as I did if she was not there for me.
She loved Korean food. She quickly learned to make kimchee, Korean soups and stews, loads of dishes from me. In return I learned how to make Indonesian curries, satay, nasi goreng from her.
We got along very well. Well, more precisely, she was very patient with me.
My family was sad to leave her behind when we left HK. I don’t think I thanked her enough for her service to my family.
So here I am, introducing one of my favorite dish that I learned from her, Sayur Lemak; vegetables in coconut milk, to show my gratitude to her.
I was told that Sayur Lemak is breakfast food in Indonesia. But, in my house, it was for dinner with grilled chicken satay and pineapple salad.
When my sister came to visit me from Korea, Utari served this meal. She loved this Sayur Lemak so much, she requested the leftover as breakfast next morning.
Sayur Lemak can be quite spicy if using those tiny bullet red chili. I use finger long red chilies and you can remove the seeds to reduce the spiciness. Typical vegetables used in this dish are cabbage, carrot, snake beans, eggplants but you can always use your own choice. Traditionally fried tofu is added at the end but I didn’t use this time.
Here are my ingredients.
Cabbage, carrot, chayote, eggplants, coconut milk, shallots, garlic, red chilies, turmeric, and dried shrimps.
Traditionally “Belachan (shrimp paste)” is used for this dish but I don’t have the access to the belachan here, so I replaced with dried shrimps.
Dice up red chilies, garlic, dried shrimp, and shallots. Put them in a blender and add about 1-2 Tbsp to help the blade to run. Less water is better.
Remove seeds from the chili if you prefer less spicy.
Whip them up… Set aside.
This interesting fella is Chayote, a member of gourd family and a second cousin to squash.
Don’t have access to this guys? Well, you can drive 20 miles to your nearest international market or skip it. The choice is up to you.
I Luv the texture of chayote in this dish.
Peel off the skin. Potato peeler works great on this job.
Slice and cut into matchsticks. Discard the seeded area in the center.
Chayote gets slimy once their coat is removed. So, add some salt on them…
and squish them for 1-2 minutes. You will feel the sliminess disappears soon and gets soften.
Give them a good rinse. Set aside.
Mix coconut milk with some water.
Heat your pot with oil over medium heat. Add the chili garlic puree and fry for 5 minutes.
Be careful not to burn them.
Pour the diluted coconut milk to the pot.
I like to add a little bit of ginger. Don’t have ginger? Just leave it out. You will survive without it.
Sprinkle a few dashes of this gorgeous turmeric. Turmeric is very essential spice in SE Asian and Indian cuisine.
Add the your vegetables, lower the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes, uncovered.
Do not let it to full boil. Otherwise the coconut milk will curdle, and you ain’t like the look.
Don’t forget to season! Drop a few splashes of fish sauce to bring all the flavor together.
(Did you see the expiration date on the bottle? This fish sauce can last for 10 years!)
Anyway, when done, pour this scrumptious vegetables over your rice and let the rice to soak up all the good juice.
Mm Mm Good!
Food like this makes you feel humble.
I miss you and wish you the best.
Vegetables in Coconut Milk (Sayur Lemak)
- 1/4 small cabbage diced into bite size
- 1 chayote peeled and seeded, cut into 1/4" matchsticks
- 1 carrot cut into 3 sections lengthwise and slice into 3/8" matchsticks
- 3 snake beans or 10-12 green beans cut in half
- 1 Asian eggplant
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp ginger puree optional
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- fish sauce to taste
- 1 Tbsp canola or grape seed oil for frying
For the spice paste:
- 8 dried shrimps
- 2 red chilies sliced (and seeded if you prefer less spicy)
- 3 shallots peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 -2 Tbsp water
- Puree all the spice paste ingredients in a blender with a little water to help the blades turning.
- In a bowl mix coconut milk and water.
- Heat a pan or wok over medium heat, add a oil. Add the chili spice puree and stir-fry for 5-7 minutes until fragrant. Add the diluted coconut milk and slowly bring to gentle boil. Add ginger and turmeric powder. Reduce the heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes, uncovered, until all the vegetables are tender.
- Season with fish sauce at the end.
- Serve over rice.