When it comes to street food in Southeast Asia, Singapore and Bangkok receive the lion’s share of kudos. Yet it is Penang City — an urbanized island off the northwestern coast of peninsular Malaysia — whose street food scene offers all that those cities do and more, just an hour’s plane ride north of Singapore and 90 minutes south of Bangkok.
That’s why Penang, home to former British colonial port and UNESCO world heritage site George Town, is a weekend destination for residents of Singapore and Bangkok alike.
Have a hankering for Indian food? Chinese? You’ll find it in Penang
Like Singapore’s street food, Penang’s is wildly varied. Think wonton noodles, roti canai (flaky and crispy flatbreads cooked on a griddle and eaten with dal and curry) and mee goreng, yellow noodles fried with chili paste. All of this is prepared and served within feet of each other, thanks to a population made up primarily of Chinese, Indians and Malays.
Like Bangkok and Singapore, Penang’s street food is served from the wee hours of the morning until late at night. And it isn’t limited to officially sanctioned hawker centers. In Penang, sellers serve their specialties from stalls parked beneath umbrellas on street corners and sidewalks, inkopitiam(coffee shops), and within and outside of food markets.
Street food that’s all in the family
In Penang, culinary skills built on the back of experience can be tasted in dishes served from one of the island’s many hawker stalls run by older and even second- or third-generation cooks.
Many on the island still use cooking methods and techniques that are being lost in other parts of the region. They commonly use live fire or coals. Many serve their dishes on banana leaves, which release an appetite-rousing scent when they come into contact with hot food. And, at a time when American cooks are just coming around to the versatility and deliciousness of lard, Penang’s Chinese hawkers have been capitalizing on it all along. They add cracklings to stir-fries and broths and drizzle liquid lard over dry noodle dishes.
Savor Penang with your eyes through this slideshow:
Main photo: No culinary excursion to Penang is complete without a few plates of char koay teow, rice noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts, Chinese chives, cockles and prawns. The best versions are fried in lard and cooked over charcoal. Credit: Copyright David Hagerman
Traditional pickled foods have become increasingly popular, with their palate-pleasing spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavors and varied textures that provide health benefits as well as serving as a digestive aid.
The most popular traditional pickled foods in America are dill pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi — all of which share one thing in common: They are vegetables pickled in a brine, vinegar or other solutions and then left to ferment, a process called lacto-fermentation. Just the sound of the words make our stomachs feel better.
How does lacto-fermentation work? During fermentation, a beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus, which is present on the surface of all vegetables and fruits, begins to metabolize its sugars into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
Eating pickled foods in moderation keeps your gut flora healthy and supports immune function by providing an increase in B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes and other immune chemicals that fight off harmful bacteria.
Pickling: A universal practice
Among fermented foods, pickles remain popular in the U.S., along with sauerkraut and kimchi. Credit: Copyright Thinkstock
The universe of lacto-fermented foods includes so much more than dill pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi. Since ancient times, people around the world have used this method to preserve vegetables and fruits when refrigeration was not available, and the tradition of pickling has carried on.
The Japanese have a diverse variety of pickles that use solid rather than liquid pickling mediums as such miso, sake lees and rice bran — all of which undergo the process of lacto-fermentation. The result is a distinctly tangy, crunchy and delicious assortment of pickles.
I am particularly fond of the nutty aroma and mild flavor of nukazuke, a traditional Japanese pickling method using fermented rice bran. Like wheat bran, rice bran is the outer layer of the grain that is removed during the milling process. In the U.S., most of the bran gets sold off to produce cattle feed and dog food, but the Japanese use it to pickle any type of firm vegetable, including carrots, cucumbers, cabbage, radish, zucchini, kabocha and burdock. The vegetables are buried in nukadoko, the fermented medium, to pickle for just a couple hours or overnight and reused again. The flavor of nukazuke is not as sour or spicy as kimchi or sauerkraut, but the health benefits are just as high.
How to maintain the nukadoko medium
Your nukadoko base for fermenting should be kept in a cool place and mixed daily to maintain it. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai
Maintaining a nukadoko medium involves one crucial task: keeping it alive. You must stir the medium with your hands once a day to aerate it, so the bacteria can breathe and do their thing. It takes no more than a minute of your time, so you can incorporate it into your daily ritual.
Nukadoko also loves the good bacteria that live on your hands, so don’t use a wooden spoon. You will notice the medium has a distinct sour smell, which indicates the bacteria are actively working. I find the smell rather pleasant.
I keep my nukadoko in the pantry, which makes the daily stirring an easy task, but some people prefer to keep it in the garage. When choosing a spot to keep it, be sure it’s a cool place. If you don’t have one, you can keep it in the refrigerator, but the fermentation process will be much slower.
Every family has its own version of nukadoko. In the old days, one of the heirloom gifts a Japanese mother passed onto her daughter as a wedding gift was nukadoko, and it was not uncommon to find a nukadoko that was more than 50 years old.
Sad to say, this custom is disappearing in Japan and convenient foods are taking over. However, a slow movement is underway to restore traditional foods like nukazuke, including here in America. I have third- and fourth-generation Japanese-Americans who come to my pickling workshops to learn how to make their grandmothers’ nukazuke.
Fresh organic rice bran can be used to create a pickling medium. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai
Sourcing rice bran in the U.S. is an easier task than I thought, because rice is grown widely in California. You can buy stabilized bran (commonly pasteurized) at Japanese markets or online, or ask your local rice farmer if they have some to sell. I contacted my friend Robin Koda at Koda Farms in South Dos Palos, one of the oldest rice farms in California, and she was happy to supply me with her raw bran, knowing its intended purpose.
One of my students commented that making nuka pickles is a bit like making compost, and it’s true. You will need a clay jar, an enameled pot or glass bin with a lid. I have an enameled pickling jar that’s about 30 years old, and it still works perfectly. The nukadoko medium has a texture similar to a wet sand or soft miso paste. Preparation of nukadoko takes about a week. If you have any leftover rice bran, keep it in the refrigerator or freezer because it is highly perishable.
Making nukadoko may seem a little tedious and time-consuming, but once you have been trained in the medium, you can keep it for years and pass it on to friends and loved ones. That’s what I enjoy doing.
Nuka Pickle Medium (Nukadoko) and Nuka Pickles
Vegetable scraps being used to train the nukadoko pickling base. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai
2 1/2 pounds of rice bran (nuka)
6 ounces sea salt
7 1/2 cups of filtered water
1 (6-inch) piece of konbu, cut up into small pieces
4 to 5 Japanese red chili peppers, seeded
Discarded ends and peels of vegetables (such as cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and daikon radish, but not onions)
2 garlic cloves, peeled (optional)
For making the nukadoko:
1. Place the rice bran in a heavy cast-iron pan and toast it over low heat. Use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir the bran so it doesn’t burn. The toasting process takes about 10 minutes. Once done, remove from heat and let stand.
2. In a separate large pot, combine the salt and water and bring to a simmer. Mix to dissolve the salt to make a brine. Remove from heat.
3. Slowly add the brine to the rice bran and mix it with a paddle until it reaches a consistency comparable to slightly moist sand.
5. Add konbu, chili peppers and garlic (if using) to the mixture.
For training the nukadoko and pickling:
1. Start by putting various vegetables scraps (try cabbage leaves, eggplant, celery and carrots) in the rice bran bed for about three days to allow them to lightly ferment. Take them out and discard them.
2. Repeat this three or four times, then you are ready to start pickling.
3. The nukadoko will develop a unique aroma and look like wet sand. At this point, a fermenting culture has been established and the nukadoko is alive and contains active organisms such as yeast and lactobacilli. You can now start putting vegetables into the nukadoko for fermenting. To speed the pickling process, you can rub a little salt on whole or large chunks of vegetables such as cucumber and carrots before you put them into the nukadoko. If the nukadoko becomes too wet, just add a little bit of rice bran with salt or a piece of day-old bread. Again, place fresh vegetables into the base for 1 to 2 days. Cucumbers may take only 2 to 3 hours on a warm day and 4 to 6 hours on a cold day.
Tips for maintaining the nukadoko base:
You will need to mix the nukadoko base once a day, turning it with your hand. If it the base feels dry, pour in a little beer. (Flat beer will work fine.)
If your most recent batch of pickles tastes too sour, add fresh nuka and salt (5 parts nuka to 1 part sea salt).
If you are traveling, you should move the nukadoko base to the refrigerator. The bacteria will go dormant, but you can reactivate them by giving the base a stir and leaving it out at room temperature. If you see any mold build up, simply scrape it off and add some fresh nuka to the mix.
Main photo: Nukazuke, or pickled vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai
Watermelon’s dribble-down-your-chin deliciousness adds an exclamation mark to any summer picnic. Memories of seed-spitting contests followed by a run through the sprinklers are the essence of childhood.
But there is so much more to love about watermelon. It is summer’s most versatile food. Dress it up or keep it simple. Soups, curries, salsas and salads; watermelon’s savory sweetness deserves a place at every meal. Let your imagination go!
Whether you use the fruit in cocktails, healthy smoothies or a simple Mexican agua fresca with watermelon juice and a squeeze of lime, drink in the goodness of watermelon.
Check out these 10 killer ideas; you will never see watermelon the same way again.
Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.
In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican.Utilizing international culinary techniques, but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation:Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments, and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limón — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.
An earlier generation of chefs have paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head chef at New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. Mexico City has become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions being forged every day.
Main photo: An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in “ash vinegar” with cucumber and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sud 777
Water scarcity is not the only issue that climate change is forcing those of us in California who garden, whether on a small or large scale, to think about. I’ve been learning that lesson this spring as I watch plants bolt within weeks, sometimes, after setting them in the earth.
Bolting is when plants convert to producing seeds, leaving the leaves tough and — usually — inedible. I had planted romaine and red leaf starts, mâche, arugula and spinach, oak leaf and frisée, and broadcast a beautiful collection of French seeds from Georgeanne Brennan’s La Vie Rustic.
Bolted lettuce is tough, but doesn’t need to go to waste
Bolted lettuce, at center, stands tall in the garden. Credit: Copyright 2012 Flickr user woodleywonderworks
But with hot September Santa Ana winds blowing in March, my crops were confused, and they still are. Broccoli went to seed long before I could harvest much in the way of florets. Baby lettuces are going to seed before they are larger than my hand, and those I planted as starts have grown into tall lettuce trees, the leaves tough and sticky.
I rarely throw out food though, and none of my bolted produce is going to waste. I learned long ago when I lived in France that a salad need not be the only home for lettuce. Bolted romaine may not be tender enough for a Caesar salad, but it can withstand the high heat of a stir-fry, and it makes a terrific spring or winter soup.
Lettuce, fresh ingredients are perfect in soup
Ingredients for lettuce soup: lettuce, leeks, herbs, potatoes, onions and garlic. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
I’ve pulled and cooked most of my lettuce by now as I turn my garden over to tomatoes. But I haven’t pulled it all, and there will be more for dishes like these. Though I learned about cooking lettuce from the French, I’m now taking cues from many cuisines. I stir-fry lettuce with tofu and with shrimp, and I’ve been blanching the bitter frisées in salted boiling water, then sautéing them in olive oil with garlic to accompany polenta or mashed fava beans, Appulia-style. If I find my bolted wild arugula too pungent to eat on its own, I chop it up and cook it quickly in olive oil, to toss with pasta.
If next year brings us another hot, dry fall and winter in California, I will not change my gardening routine. I’ll plant my winter lettuce garden as I do every year, but I’ll change my repertoire of dishes, and by necessity veer from the raw to the cooked.
Romaine, Leek and Potato Soup
Romaine lettuce, leek and potato soup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small or 1/2 medium-size onion, chopped
2 leeks (3/4 pound), white and light green parts only, sliced and rinsed well (about 2 1/4 cups; save the dark parts for the bouquet garni and stock)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large russet or 2 Yukon gold potatoes (10 ounces), peeled and diced
5 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
A bouquet garni made with a cleaned leaf from the dark part of the leek, a bay leaf and a few sprigs each parsley and thyme, and a Parmesan rind, tied together
Salt to taste
1 large head (3/4 pound) romaine lettuce, washed and coarsely chopped (6 cups)
Freshly ground pepper
Garlic croutons, chopped fresh parsley and/or chives, and hazelnut oil for garnish
1. If you do not have stock, make a quick vegetable stock with the leek trimmings and a few cloves of garlic while you prepare the other vegetables.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and leek. Cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the potatoes, stock and bouquet garni, and bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
3. Stir in the lettuce leaves and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes. The potatoes should be thoroughly tender and falling apart.
4. Using an immersion blender, or in a blender, purée the soup until smooth. I prefer to use an immersion blender, and then put the soup through the coarse blade of a food mill. That way you get some nice texture, but you get rid of the fibers from the lettuce. If you want a smooth, silky texture, strain the soup through a medium strainer, pushing it through the strainer with a pestle, spatula or the bowl of a ladle. Return the soup to the heat, add lots of freshly ground pepper, taste and adjust salt. Heat through and serve, garnishing each bowl with garlic croutons, chopped fresh parsley or chives and a drizzle of hazelnut oil.
Note: The soup can be made a day ahead and reheated or served cold.
Stir-fried Brown Rice With Green Garlic, Lettuce and Tofu
Stir-fried rice and lettuce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
1/2 pound tofu, cut in 1/2-inch dice and blotted on paper towels
Soy sauce to taste
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced green garlic
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño or serrano chile (more to taste)
1/4 pound lettuce, cut in 1/2-inch wide strips (4 cups)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or a 12-inch skillet over high heat until a drop of water evaporates within a second or two when added to the pan. Season the beaten egg with a little salt. Swirl 1 teaspoon of the oil into the wok or pan. Make sure that the bottom of the wok or pan is coated with oil and add the egg, swirling the pan so that the egg forms a thin pancake. Cook until set, which should happen in less than 30 seconds. Using a spatula, turn the egg over and cook for 5 to 10 more seconds, until thoroughly set, then transfer to a plate or cutting board. Using the edge of your spatula or a paring knife, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Set aside.
2. Swirl another tablespoon of oil into the wok or pan and add the tofu. Stir-fry until lightly colored, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with soy sauce and stir-fry for another few seconds, then remove to the plate with the egg.
3. Swirl the remaining oil into the wok or pan and add the garlic, ginger and chile. Stir-fry no more than 10 seconds, until fragrant, and add the lettuce. Stir-fry until the lettuce wilts, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and stir-fry, pressing the rice into the pan and scooping it up, for a minute or two, until fragrant and hot. Return the tofu and egg to the wok along with the cilantro and fish sauce, stir-fry for another 30 seconds to a minute, until everything is hot and nicely mixed together, and serve.
Main photo: Bolted lettuce stands tall amid the flowers in the garden. Credit: Copyright 2015 Martha Rose Shulman
Cattails have been described as the grocery store of the wild because every part of the plant is edible. During the growing season, three of these parts — shoots, flowers and pollen — provide easily accessed and versatile food for foragers.
Better yet, these parts of the cattail offer analogs to familiar flavors such as cucumber and corn, which means that even those dubious of wild food might enjoy them. Euell Gibbons treasured cattails, “For the number of different kinds of food it produces there is no plant, wild or domesticated, which tops the common cattail.”
Sometimes growing 9 feet tall and best recognized in late summer by their brown cigar-shaped flowers, both broadleaf (Typha latifolia) and narrow-leaf cattail (T. angustifolia) are edible, and can be used interchangeably. Though widely available, care must be taken to harvest cattail from a clean location because the plant grows in marshy areas, which can be contaminated.
Whether you live in the city or the country, use caution when choosing a place to pick cattails, particularly cattail shoots. Consider what the water looks and smells like where you are harvesting, as well as what may be upstream. In the city, drainage from streets and golf courses can make water unsafe for collecting food. Rural locations can look pristine, but beware of agricultural runoff.
Finding the right place to forage
Cattails in water. Credit: Copyright 2015 Wendy Petty
Perhaps the best known edible part of cattail, the tender core of the growing leaves, is commonly referred to as the shoot. Cattail shoots are best before the plant begins to flower. To harvest cattail shoots, peel back the outer two or three leaves, firmly grasp the remaining leaves with both hands, and give the plant a tug. You will have in your hands something that looks like an enormous leek.
Peel back more leaves until the lower end is a creamy pale white. Cut off all of the dark green leaves so that you are left with a heart of cattail. If you feel certain you have harvested your cattail shoots from a clean location, do a taste test.
Some people feel a scratchy sensation at the back of the throat when eating raw cattails. If so, skip eating them raw. If you don’t feel the itchy sensation, delight in the crunchy and satisfyingly cucumber taste of cattail shoots. They can be used in all the dishes for which you’d traditionally use cucumber, from salad to tzatziki to refreshing yogurt soup.
Cattail shoots are also fantastic when cooked. They can simply be chopped and added to stir-fries and side dishes. They are especially good when blanched, dressed in oil, garlic, salt and pepper, and lightly grilled.
When cattail flowers emerge, they are well disguised by sheaths of leaves, much like slender ears of corn. Cattail flowers are made up of two parts. The upper portion is male and will go on to produce pollen. The lower portion is female and is what remains and turns into the recognizable brown sausage-shaped punk later in the year.
In narrow-leaf cattail, the male and female portion are separated by a small bit of spike, whereas the broad-leaf cattail, the two bits are connected. The upper, male, portion of the cattail flower is what is traditionally harvested, as it provides a greater amount of edible material than the female bit.
Look to collect cattail flowers as they begin to emerge from their sheath, and simply cut the upper portion off with a pair of scissors or a knife.
To enjoy cattail flowers, steam them whole for 10 minutes. If you have children around, they may enjoy eating the cooked cattail flowers with a bit of butter and salt, like miniature corn-on-the-cob, though care must be taken not to ingest the inedible toothpick-like core of cattail flowers.
Cattail flowers may also be stripped off their inner core using an upside down fork. Using this method, it is quite simple to prepare a large amount of flowers in a short period of time.
Cattail flowers have a surprisingly sweet and mellow flavor, not unlike corn. They may be prepared simply, with nothing more than garlic butter and salt. Cattail flowers also work well in egg dishes and soups.
Perhaps the most delightful part of the cattail to eat is its bright yellow pollen.
Look for cattail flowers that are loaded with yellow pollen, like a mop heavy with dust, and collect it by shaking the top portion of the cattail flower into a milk jug or half-gallon Mason jar, either in the field or snipped off and done at home.
Cattail pollen can be substituted into 1/3 of the flour in most recipes for baked goods, from pancakes to muffins and breads. Cattail pollen can also be used to add a sunny color and subtle milky corn flavor to rice dishes.
Main photo: Cattails. Credit: Copyright 2015 Ellen Zachos
An often underrated gift of summer is the bountiful presence of fresh herbs. At this time of year, like no other, herbs infuse distinct and potent flavors into your meals.
Take a summer vacation from a traditional garnish when you’re using those herbs. Think fenugreekfried chicken. Or an icy pineapple freezer pop infused with ginger andlemon verbena. Or grilled corn slathered with basil-and-goat-cheese butter.
10 fresh ideas for summer herbs
Click through this slideshow to find 10 unique ideas for using summer herbs from the garden— and from your market:
Main photo: Nothing says summer like a fresh-fruit ice pop. Freeze pineapple with fresh summer herbs ginger and lemon verbena for a cold sweet treat that’s light and refreshing. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya
It’s stone fruit season! Stone fruit includes peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries, all those summer tree fruits with a pit in the center. These are fruits that can be used in sweet treats, of course, but also in savory meals. Here are five recipes to celebrate stone fruits. Try them all with your family while these fruits are at their peak.
Store-bought smoothies can be high in sugar. Make one yourself, using real fruit and plain yogurt, and create a super-healthy drink. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay
Keen Peachy Smoothie
Start off your morning with a peach smoothie made from real fruit and yogurt. Use fresh peaches in the summertime, since they’re in season now. During the rest of the year, you can use frozen peaches so you can have a taste of summer all year long.
Chunky stone fruit salsa pairs nicely with flax-seed chips for a healthy treat. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay
You can use any combination of peaches, nectarines, plums, apricotsor cherries in this sweet, tangy recipe. This salsa can be used to top yogurt or waffles at breakfast, or for tacos and quesadillas at lunch or dinner. Or, just go classic and scoop it up with a chip. The salsa can also be made a little spicier by adding jalapenos, if you like.
Frozen fruit-salad pops make the most of summer fruits’ colorful sweetness. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay
Frozen Fruit-Salad Pops
These homemade popsicles can be made with any fruit you like, but since stone fruits are in season, it’s a perfect time to use them. Chopped-up fruit frozen in white grape juice makes a sweet treat for hot days. Plus, these pops are so beautiful! (But not too beautiful to eat.)
Stone fruit and biscuits make for a filling, and satisfying, summer treat. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay
This dessert uses two stone fruits: peaches and cherries. Of course, you can use your favorite stone fruit instead. (Or even strawberries or blueberries — we won’t tell!) A cobbler is kind of like a giant, fruit-filled biscuit, and it makes a perfect treat after a lazy summer day.
A “secret” ingredient in this smoothie: Dates, which are a great natural sweetener because they also add nutrients, including fiber and the minerals calcium, magnesium and potassium. Credit: Copyright Carl Tremblay
Here’s a creamy shake made from cherries and dates. Dates aren’t stone fruits — but they do have pits! They’re also super healthy, and sweet, which adds natural sweetener to this smoothie.