Sunday, February 7, 2010
The best thing about Chinese New Year, besides being an extra reason to shop for new clothes and shoes...being given the money to shop for aforementioned necessities..being given money by complete strangers...being given money for not being married..who am I kidding, there is no one best thing about my favourite holiday...everything about it is sheer fantabulousness. But the one thing I look forward to every year, so much so that I've been known to beg for doggy bags of the stuff to take home because my mum doesn't believe in deep-frying, has to be my favourite treat ~ crispy prawn crackers heaped with tangy, spicy vegetable pickle..gah! Gives a whole new meaning to the term fire cracker..Strips of red, green and bright orange with flecks of pale gold sesame seeds...like a Pucci scarf..only so much better ;)
I grew up eating my grandma's acar..but having trawled through blog after blog and comparing countless recipes..I am now resigned to the fact that my gran's acar probably isn't the most authentic one around...sorry ah ma....See, all the acar recipes I have come across involve chunky crudité-ish vegetables and the addition of long beans. Call me sentimental, but in a bid to recreate my favourite thing to eat and preserve what I remember of ah ma's acar, I have decided to do away with chunky cuts and stick instead with the dainty strips from my childhood.
My take on Ah Ma's acar
Half a cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
100g cabbage, sliced
2 small carrots, grated/ julienned [ I used pre-packed coleslaw mix ~160g of ready shredded cabbage, carrots and red onions ..because life is too short to julienne half a pound of vegetables; but if you'd like to stick to the conventional chunks, good luck]
3 fresh chillies
1/2 tbsp chilli flakes [go easy on the spice..I think I went a bit overboard with mine..]
2 cloves garlic
1/2tbsp ground turmeric
1/2 inch galanghal
1tbsp pine nuts, toasted [I think the proper thing to use is candlenuts, but I didn't have any and I figured pine nuts are used to thicken pesto anyway...turned out pretty well]
1/2 stalk lemon grass, bruised and thinly sliced
200ml rice vinegar
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of blanching liquid
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup rice vinegar [or lemon or lime juice..probably not the most cost effective thing to do in this country though]
3-4 tbsp brown sugar
salt to taste [ go easy on the salt, the blanching liquid is very salty]
5og roasted peanuts, crushed
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds [ I stupidly toasted the sesame seeds with the pine nuts...which left me painstakingly picking out pine nuts and feeling a bit like the girl who had to separate seeds because her stepmother didn't want her to go to the ball...only no birds came to help me..I think it's because they've all flown south for the winter..ho hum]
1. Rub cucumber with 1 tbsp salt, leave for an hour, then squeeze out all the excess water and spread out on a kitchen towel.
2. Bring the blanching liquid to a rapid boil, and blanch the carrots and cabbage for about 5 seconds. Drain, reserving the liquid.
3. Squeeze out excess water, and spread out on a kitchen towel.
4. For the spice paste, if you have a blender, good for you. Toss everything in the blender and blend into a smooth paste. If you're using a stick blender like me, roughly chop the ingredients first before blending. It will take awhile, so if you're looking to make a large batch, buy a blender.
5. Heat up 2 tbsp oil, and fry the spice paste till fragrant..about 5-10 minutes on low heat..By which time your kitchen will smell divine...I was so tempted to ditch the vegetables and throw some chicken and coconut milk into the spice paste..
6. Now stir in the brine, adjusting the seasoning as you go along.
7. Bring to a boil and cool completely
8. Stir in the vegetables, peanuts and sesame seeds and chill.
9. Now take a prawn cracker, pile on the pickle....and tell me that does not make you smile :)