Well, not immediately.
First of all we had to sniff our way through the ‘erbs and spices going into the dishes, the stand out being ginger flowers which are sold in bud and were to be sliced up for the salad. Pandan leaves were also shared out, they give colour to the noodles in Chendul, a dessert of coconut milk and shaved ice, and are used in savoury and sweet cooking, they smelled…leafy.
We were making Nasi Lemak with sambal ikan bilis (rice with a chili sambal and fried little blue eyed anchovies), beef rendang with a four angle bean salad, and a tapioca cake. I say ‘make’, really we were just glorifed cutters and pestle wavers, which is what most cooks are I suppose?
Nazlina was keeping an eye on us all, making sure we were cutting the pre-slow boiled beef with the grain as thin as possible, imparting insights and sharing her extensive knowledge about Malay cuisine.She was pure joy to listen to and watch, she is so passionate and just wants you to get it right – yet at the same time, if there’s a hiccup – it’s not the end of the world, no one died, it’s just food, right?
We moved onto pounding the shallots, garlic, onion, galangal, ginger and nuts down into a paste for the rendang and a similar mix although of onions, garlic, ginger, pre-soaked dried chillies, and toasted shrimp paste for the Nasi Lemak. Roll on being back home and being able to use a blender!
The rendang starts off very wet, and the idea is to simmer it down to a very dry mix, slicing the beef so thin allowed that to happen over an hour as opposed to over three hours – which you’d need if you were using chunks.
Making kerisik to go into the rendang was alchemy in action. After toasting coconut on a stove you pound it with a mortar and pestle and it eventually becomes this chocolate-like paste that smells amizzin’.It goes into the rendang once the sauce is reduced by half, which meant we were on the home stretch for the serving up.
Meanwhile the tapioca cake was ready. Nazlina hadn’t cooked in her oven for 3yrs, so this was a bit of a novelty, so much so that part way through she’d forgotten the coconut that needed to go into it! Luckily the cake is pretty impervious to being taken out of an oven and having forgotten ingredients mixed in and so was in good shape as the tins were set into water baths to cool. Back in pre-oven days people would have to beat the crap out of the tapioca, mix all the ingredients, then put it all into a cut down tea tin with a lid on it, then stuck on the open fire with hot coals put on the top.
At the stove, the sambal was underway as well, the blended mix of chillies etc was guaranteed to make your eyebrows fall out and your tears flow down your face till the dead woke up. It was added to water, oil, tamarind juice and palm sugar. Once it was cooking though, the chilli mellowed and the ideal was for it to taste smooth in the back of the throat as opposed to it taking out your tonsils and leaving you gasping for air.
As the sambal softened in taste, the anchovies and peanuts were flash fried separately (by the way – don’t google ‘Blue Eyed Anchovies – it’s an array of non-fish related pages that appear!). I was googling because I’m sure Peter mentioned that they have blue eyes just before they develop spines but wanted to check, now I’ll never know.
Meanwhile the rice had been cooked in a rice cooker (as opposed to in a non-rice cooker) with coconut milk, the pandan leaves and a mix of spices and was all light and fluffy and ready. The sambal was tasting like it wasn’t going to throttle you and the rendang was reduced down to the right dryness. Lunch was ready to be served.
So it was time to dish up the starter of Nasi Lemak. This involved turning out a pot of rice onto a banana leaf, adding the sambal, topping with cucumber, anchovies and peanuts. Then balancing a quarter of a boiled egg on it all. We then wrapped the stack in a pyramid in the banana leaf, before unwrapping them to tuck in…
The sambal wasn’t searingly hot – it had a nice kick to it , I’m sure John Torode had more artsy farsty things to say when he was cooking with Nazlina – we were merely heads down stuffing our gobs.
Next up we dished up the Rendang, alongside the salad. That’s when all you could hear was chewing.
A small slice of tapioca cake Mrs Wembley and the deed was done. Well, ok, maybe it was after another sliver of the beef rendang , along with a bit more salad and a scraping of the bowl of sambal. We were S-T-U-F-F-E-D.
Time to be rolled home to relax for a bit and get ready for the evening’s food tour (!)