Cookbook 111: a Nonya Inheritance

I was in Penang for a week recently, and one of the things I did in order to prepare for the holiday (and survive a really stressful week) was book a cooking course.  Penang food, to me, is the essence of Malaysian cuisine, and I wanted to learn all I could about it. I researched the various cooking class offerings and settled on Pearly Kee’s classes thanks to both the high rating on Trip Advisor, and because she’s published a cookbook, a Nonya Inheritance.

The cooking class was really great.  Pearly is very knowledgeable about Nonya food, traditional medicine in Penang, and why fresh food is good for you.  She clearly loves sharing her extensive knowledge of cooking with her students, and I highly recommend going to a class if you can manage it.  While cooking three of the recipes in this book (one modified with instruction from Pearly), I remembered the experience of cooking in Penang, the freshness of the ingredients and how good it tasted at the end.  I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Sambal Goreng (modified – see notes below)


Spice Paste:

  • 15g tamarind (assam)
  • 70ml water
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, finely sliced
  • 20 – 24 cashew nuts
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Other ingredients:

  • 50ml coconut cream
  • 50ml water
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 4 – 6 shallots
  • 4 – 6 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 fresh red chillies, seeds removed and cut into triangles
  • 2 green chillies, seeds removed and cut into triangles
  • 20 medium size fresh prawns with the shells and heads removed, mixed with 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 20 – 24 toasted, chopped cashew nuts for garnish


  1. Squeeze the tamarind repeatedly in the water.  Rest for 15 minutes and continue squeezing.  Strain the water through your fingers into a blender to remove the pulp.
  2. Grind all the spice paste ingredients and tamarind water to create a fine paste.
  3. In a bowl, mix coconut cream with water.
  4. Heat oil and fry the shallots, remove as soon as these become crisp.  Drain the fried shallots and keep aside on a plate.
  5. Using the same oil, fry the garlic until it becomes crisp, drain and set aside on a plate.
  6. Remove excess oil leaving about 1 teaspoon of oil and stir fry the red and green chillies for about 10 seconds. Remove the chillies.
  7. With the same oil, stir fry the prawns until firm and remove from the oil and set aside.
  8. Fry the ground spice paste and coco nut milk at low heat.  Allow it to boil for 5 minutes at low heat, turn off the heat when it comes to a rolling boil.  Pour the white sauce onto a serving plate, add the stir fried chillies, prawns and top with toasted cashew nuts.
  9. Garnish with friend shallots and garlic.

Notes on this recipe (including substitutions)

  • I substituted (on the advice of Pearly) the prawns for a 1cm x 1cm diced eggplant (1 large)  that I fried up before starting on the rest of this recipe.  Next time I might use more eggplant.
  • I substituted the shrimp paste for more salt, just add more salt to the spice paste, make it about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon (1 teaspoon was too much).
  • The spice paste in this dish is really gorgeous, and I will definitely be making this again.
  • Use a food processor (spice blender) or a blender to make the curry paste.  Have the curry paste as fine as possible, it is not there to add texture to the dish, but flavour.

Curry Kapitan


Curry Paste:

  • 30g lemongrass, finely sliced
  • 45g fresh red chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 15g fresh turmeric, coarsely chopped
  • 35g galangal, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3 dried chillies, coarsely chopped
  • 3 candlenuts, coarsely chopped (or macadamias)

Other ingredients

  • 90ml coconut cream
  • 300ml water
  • 4 – 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 600g chicken, or 2 whole legs (cut into 10 pieces)
  • 70g onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 fresh limes


  1. Grind curry paste ingredients together.  Add in water (a third of the hight of the paste).
  2. Mix 20ml coconut cream with 300ml water to make light coconut milk. Set aside 70ml of coconut cream.
  3. In a wok or pot, add 4 tablespoons cooking oil and fry ground curry pate.  Add more oil if the paste does not bubble.  Big bubbles will start to appear as the moisture evaporates.  Keep stirring to prevent the paste from sticking to the sides of the wok or pan.
  4. When the bubbles become smaller, add in the chicken.  Keep stirring to make sure the chicken is well coated with the ground curry paste.  Keep on medium heat to avoid burning the chicken.
  5. As the chicken pieces turn white and firm, add light coco nut milk, turn to high heat and bring to boil for 5 minutes.
  6. Turn to medium heat to simmer until chicken is tender (15 – 20 minutes)
  7. Once the gravy is reduced by half, add in the onions, salt, sugar, lime juice and remaining 70ml of coconut cream.
  8. Check seasonings and serve.  If you leave the curry to sit in the pot for a while, do not cover this or the coconut cream will curdle.

Notes on this recipe:

  • In Penang you can get fresh coconut milk and coconut cream and it is amazing.  In Australia that doesn’t happen, so I’d recommend just using coconut milk in a tin – so 300ml for the first bit, and then 70ml coconut cream in the next bit.
  • I didn’t use chicken with bones in (as you can see), the dish was delicious and eaten all up.

Egg Belanda


  • 4 – 6 chicken eggs
  • 30g tamarind (assam)
  • 250ml water
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 30g shallots, thinly sliced
  • 90g onions, cut into rings
  • 30g garlic, crushed and finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons bean paste (tau cheong)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chicken granules (optional)
  • 1 stalk spring onion, coarsely chopped for garnish
  • 1 red chilli, sliced into long, thin slices for garnish


  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons water


  1. Fry eggs, one at a time, sunny side up.  Dish out on a plate
  2. Squeeze the tamarind repeatedly in the water. Rest for 15 minutes and continue squeezing. Strain the water through your fingers into a bowl to remove the pulp.
  3. Heat oil and fry the shallots, remove as soon as these become crisp.  Drain the fried shallots and keep aside on a plate.
  4. Using the same oil, fry the onions and remove when cooked
  5. Fry the garlic and bean paste until it becomes fragrant, then add the tamarind water and bring to a boil.
  6. Add sugar, soy sauce, and chicken granules (optional) and adjust taste.  Add in the thickening and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.
  7. Pour the sauce over the fried eggs and garnish with fried shallots, fried onion rings, spring onions and red chillies.

Notes on this recipe:

  • Pearly joked that this was Australia’s new breakfast.  I think she’s onto something.  The flavours in this dish were absolutely amazing, they all blended so perfectly together and there was talk at the table to making it for breakfast from time to time (though the idea of being awake enough to fry all the things was a consideration)
  • We fried all the eggs at the same time, and flipped them so the white would be all cooked.  We also skipped the chicken granules.