Yesterday I had a craving. A craving so strong it was a pining. For beef rendang and nasi himpit. That craving made me go to the kitchen the moment I stepped into my house after the weekly grocery shopping with my husband and children to defrost the beef in the microwave.
As my hands start the therapeutic (oh yes, I do consider cooking therapeutic nowadays!) process of cooking, my mind, as usual, starts to wander. And as it embarked on its journey as I cleared up the kitchen surfaces and started to wash the dirty dishes left from breakfast, I realise it was wandering towards home. Home in Melaka where my mother and grandmother live in a fairly large bungalow near the sea. With an Indonesian maid that seemed to grow fatter and fatter every time I saw her.
In that very vivid picture in my mind I saw my mother standing in front of the stove, that old spatula in her hand, vigorously stirring food. Cooking the Rendang. And when finally the smell of the beef and coconut milk concoction wafted through my kitchen, my heart felt heavy. That smell. With that smell came so many happy memories. Of Eid (Hari Raya). Of my sisters and I gathering in the kitchen filling up ketupat casings for cooking in the big pot outside, water in it already boiling merrily. Of my mother’s black mood every Raya eve for she wants everything to be ready and perfect for the day after and yet her daughters are lounging in front of the TV, doing nothing. How young and irresponsible and unhelpful we were! And how normal for people so young. We were, most of us home from boarding school for the holidays and all everybody wanted to do was really to sit back.) What happy memories that smell brought to me. How happy that smell made me.
The memories are happy memories because they are memories of home. Even though they may include memories of a scolding or a slapping(!). That’s right. I was slapped once. For something I did not do. It still hurt to think about it. I wasn’t believed and so I was punished. But I have forgiven. She is my mother after all. She has her own trial and tribulations. Who can escape their own share of those. Memories of my mother, father and grandmother will always be fond memories that I cherish and treasure, no matter what.
Ah, yes. I am truly and honestly homesick.
But a phone call home can help. And the rendang will help too, once consumed. It is my very own cure for homesickness. Perhaps you have your own cure but this is mine. For those of you who are living abroad, away from Malaysia like me and want a piece of home, made simply and without too much fuss but tastes just as good, try my rendang recipe below.
500gm beef (not lean, cut into small pieces 4-5cm)
1 can of coconut milk
3 cms galangal (pounded just a bit)
2 sticks of lemon grass (pounded just a bit)
2-3 teaspoons of turmeric powder
1 slice of asam keping (what’s that in English?)
2 tsps of chilli powder
salt to taste
kerisik – dessicated coconut (choose a type that does not look too dry) - about 1 tbls, browned without oil and pounded to a rough paste
to be blended:
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
3 cms ginger
Put everything except the asam keeping and kerisik in a wok or a pot. Salt can be added later too. No oil needed. Make sure everything covers the beef very generously. Increase heat to boil and then reduce heat and simmer until coconut milk is very thick. Don’t forget to stir once in a while to avoid the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the wok/ pot. Then add the asam keping and stir a little bit more until the rendang is even thicker and any flowing liquid is nearly dried up. Then add the kerisik and stir some more. Add salt to taste. Rendang should be ready when it is very thick, gravy not flowing and not liquid anymore. Eat with rice or nasi himpit.
Rice cooked traditionally in a large pot with lots of water and then pressed down hard in a flat pan and left to cool. Once cooled, they will be cut into cubes.
Away from Malaysia, what you need is just the rice that they sell in supermarkets that are sold in small boxes. Inside the boxes, cleaned rice is packed in small packets (that have small holes on them) and can be straightaway chucked into boiling water. Once cooked according to the instructions on the box, the westerners will tear up the plastic and pour the cooked rice into a plate. That’s how the westerners seem to like their rice – dry and not starchy. This product can be easily found in any supermarkets in England.
In order to make nasi himpit though, this product is wonderful. What you need to do is just chuck 2-3 of these packets in a large pot of boiling water and let it cook for at least 2 hours. Make sure the packets are immersed in the boiling water and top up on the hot water if you need to. Make sure the nasi himpit is cooked evenly by turning over the packets once in a while. The nasi himpit is ready to be drained and cooled on a rack or a towel when the plastic is filled and nearly bursting (but not!) with the over cooked rice. Once cooled (normally for a few hours in room temperature or a shorter period in the fridge), the rice packets will be hard. Cut the packets into 2 before removing the plastic and cut further into cubes to be served with the rendang.