hakka lui cha 客家擂茶

Ren Ri 人日 or Man’s Day, falls on the 7th day of our Chinese Lunar calendar. Growing up in a hokkien family, we never celebrated this day as we prided our own Heavenly God’s Day which falls on the 9th . Competitive, yes the Chinese are very.

My kay el friends and colleagues, majority Cantonese, celebrate Ren Ri by tossing a Yee Sang which symbolises prosperity.

My earlier encounters with Lui Cha weren’t very impressive. Yearly, I would be invited by my cousin’s wife, a hakka who hosts a party to serve “ham cha” meaning “salted tea” or what I have now intimately got familiarised to, as “lui cha”. Never really liked it then. The broth made by her was not very agreeable to my palate. To remain a courteous guest and relative, most times I would just eat the assorted vegetables, rice and nuts tossed together.

My passion towards Lui Cha makes a turn after getting acquainted with the Hakka Chans.

Every Ren Ri, senior Mrs. Chan will be very busy prepping up a big Lui Cha party for the whole village and our clans’ folks. 7 large plates of lightly fried assorted greens, white steamed rice or puffy rice served with Lui Cha. Simple, healthy salad food to many but a good Hakka Chan’s Lui Cha lies in the making of this tea broth.

Although Lui Cha  擂茶; literally means “pounded tea”, it is not. Of course, today many can choose the blender. Anyway, Mom is traditional and romantic, she prefers to gruel ingredients inside a specially made ceramic pot with a guava branch. I have the honor to witness the “behind the scene” of the long gruelling process of making this much loved tea paste.

Simple as it may sound; it is truly laborious.

Mom is trimming the heart shaped ku-li-xin, leaf by leaf, avoiding the stems and thorns.

The complete ensemble of 5 herbal leaves when available, when unavailable, you can cut them to 2 or 3 with basil as a compulsory base.

_DSC9320

Wormwood, what a name!

_DSC9325

It took me the longest time to find a name to this herb. Look at the serrated edges, you can half guess it’s name; Sawtooth Coriander. This herb is rarely seen or sold in wet markets. Growing up, I have never encountered this plant till I stepped foot into Hakkachan. I have grown very fond of it’s pungent and spicy taste. Try julienne it into tiny strips and toss some light soya sauce as a condiment for steamed chicken or blanched pork belly. Heavenly.

_DSC9300

“Acanthopanax” is grown abundantly in mom’s garden. A small was given to me and I am ashamed to share that it hasn’t flourished well under my care. Anyway, after much research, this commonly known to our family as “ku-li-xin” or “bitter hearts” has palm shaped, ternate compound leaves and hook shaped thorns along its stem pointing downwards. Bitter in taste, this herb is ‘cooling’ and has detoxifying properties that dispel heat, damp and ‘wind’. Older folks use them to alleviate ‘heaty’ cough, rheumatoid arthritis.

 

RECIPE for LUI CHA PASTE 
Ingredients for Lui cha tea paste :  (serve 4-6 persons)
  • 2 cups   acanthopanax/ku li xin leaves
  • 1 cups   mint leaves
  • 2 cups   basil leaves
  • 1 cup     chainsaw leaves
  • 1 cup     wormwood leaves
  • 1 cup     roasted sesame
  • 1 cup     roasted peanut, crashed
  • 1/2 cup  chinese green or brown tea leaves
  • 1 cups  hot water
    (blend all ingredients into paste ~ like making pesto)

METHOD:-

1. Toast sesame seeds. Fry peanuts in a wok without oil. Keep stirring till it is fragrant. Cool and shell skins.

2. Put in the green herbs, batch by batch. Add in a little water and gruel

3. Put some peanuts and sesame (to individual’s liking) into the lei-cha grinding pot. Add in some water and grind it into a paste.

You may use a blender instead. Mom occasionally does it.

The paste has to be added with hot water, salt and additional freshly pounded toasted groundnuts and sesame seeds.

Or you can make a larger batch, store the paste into containers and freeze them for future use.

Rice Dumplings 粽子

hakkachan

At Hakka Chan, we do not have to wait for Double 5 端午節, 5th Day of 5th Month according to Chinese Lunar Calendar or more popularly known as the Dragon Boat Festival to have Momsie’s delicious home made rice dumplings. Whenever we crave for it and she gets to hear it, we will find them on the dining table when we next return to Malacca.

Chinese Rice Dumplings have so many version and varieties. Many will argue to defend their favourites. I do not get personal about it because I am open to savour all kinds of composition. When I was younger, I used to be crazy over the Peranakan version. As I grow older, I found it too sweet for my liking. Mind you, there are communities that eat their savoury dumplings dipped into sugar. No kidding.

hakkachan

There are such thing as Hokkien, Teo Chew, Hakka or Cantonese Dumplings on the general. There would appear to be a certain rules on how they wrapped and common ingredients used. However, when you put 10 hakka families dumplings for comparisons, you will find variations unique to each family’s culture and history.

Our Hakka Chan rice dumpling recipe has evolved the last 50 years.

When Momsie married to dad, Grandma Chan was guardian to many of Hakka Chan’s recipes. She cooked her food very carefully and most times in favour of Grandpa Chan’s palate. Momsie told me she had never wrapped dumplings when she first stepped foot into the family. On her way work to the rubber plantations, she will gather as many bamboo leaves. She practised hundreds of times wrapping sand into those leaves as if they were dumplings.

hakkachan

Today, she is the new guardian of this Rice Dumpling recipe. She remembered when Grandpa Chan was alive, the two main ingredients for fillings were dried shrimps and pork belly. When he passed on, she has adapted the ingredients over the years based on the responses and feedback from her children. Coco dislikes the texture and smell of oyster, meanwhile Agnes finds that dried shrimps overpower the flavour and has a very sandy texture.

There are endless of combination of ingredients that one can introduced. Salted duck egg yolks, split mung beans, black eyed peas, sugared melon, dried shrimps, dried scallops etc.

At Hakka Chan, our dumplings are served in simplicity. Brought home a few for my parents to try. Dad said it was the simplest dumpling and the tastiest dumpling he ever had. Full of praise.

hakkachan

When choosing bamboo leaves, be mindful that there are size variations. Try to choose the larger ones for wrapping savoury dumplings and the smaller one for alkaline dumplings.

If you have time, soak those leaves overnight and there is no need to boil to soften them. Moreover, they retain a prettier green colour than the yellow hue of those boiled. However, in case of shortages, you may need to boil a few to supplement.

  

Shallots and garlic add flavour and aroma. Make sure that you do not over fry them as they can be bitter when overcooked.

  

Dried chestnuts adds flavour and sweetness to the dumpling. The powdery sweet nut somehow delights the palate in an interesting manner. Soak them overnight and with the tip of a sharp little knife, dig out the thin membrane stubbornly stuck on thin grooves. If you are short of time and do not have 4 to 6 hours to soak, boil them first to soften.

Choose mushrooms with thick succulent flesh. Soak for an hour and slice thinly.

FILLINGS of Random Chopped Meat – Chan Family Recipe

INGREDIENTS:-

  • 1 kg pork – shoulder part, cut into cubes and randomly chopped
  • 15 pieces chinese dried mushroom (pre-soaked till soft and cut into cubes not more than 1 cm sides)
  • 8 shallots (sliced thinly)
  • 1 bulb garlic (sliced thinly)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons dark soya sauce
  • 5 spice powder
  • a tablespoon of oyster sauce (a great debate to drop this off)
  • Liberal dashes of white pepper powder
  • a dash of light soya sauce
  • a little cornstarch with water to thicken excess gravy
  • 3 tablespoon of oil for frying and cooking
METHOD:-
  1. Marinate random chopped shoulder port with salt, 5 spice powder, 2 teaspoon of salt,
  2. Heat up 4 tablespoons of cooking oil in wok and fry the other half of garlic and shallots till aromatic. Drain and keep aside. Keep oil.
  3. Trim soaked mushrooms into small thin slices. Drain all excess oil. Add a tsp of sugar and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. Mix well.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon of oil from frying shallots and garlic into a wok. Fry mushroom till fragrant.
  5. Add pork and fry meat over medium heat. Add salt, light and dark soya sauce. Liberal dashes of white pepper powder. Stir and fry till pork is cooked. Pour in cornstarch paste to thicken the fillings.
  6. Add fried shallots and fried garlic. Mix thoroughly.
  7. Keep remaining fried garlic and fried shallot oil to fry glutinous rice.
  8. Set aside and cool.
hakkachan

Glutinous Rice

INGREDIENTS:-

  • 1 kg glutinous rice (washed, pre-soaked for 4 to 6 hours and drained)
  • 3 tablespoon oil balance from frying shallots and garlic
  • salt
  • light soya sauce
  • dark soya sauce
METHOD:-
  1. Pour 3 tablespoons of remaining oil into wok.
  2. Pour in drained glutinous rice.
  3. Add salt,  light and dark soya sauce.
  4. Fry for 10 to 15 minutes and it cool before you start wrapping.
  5. Organise rice, meat filling and chestnuts for wrapping.
  6.  Boil Rice Dumplings for 3 hours completely submerged and covered. For best results, use a charcoal stove. For quick cooking, use a pressure cooker and boil for approximately 30 to 40 minutes on pressure.
hakkachan

Ah Na’s mother who is visiting her grandchildren in Kuala Lumpur during this school holidays dropped by Agnes’s place this afternoon. They came with their fusion Hakka and Hainanese rice dumpling made from mince meat. Momsie was delighted to have friends from Tanjong Minyak dropping by to share some gossip over coffee.

hakkachan

Wrapping rice dumpling can be a quite a messy task. It requires a certain skill that I obviously am lacking at the moment. Our visitors were uncomfortable seeing Agnes wrapping all alone. Before we knew it, Ah Na and her mom were all busy helping out to wrap our dumplings. A most welcome gesture and as a token, Momsie gave them half a dozen of our delicious Hakka Chan Rice Dumplings.

hakkachan

Simple Lui Cha 擂茶

hakkachan

Well, it’s Wesak Day and a vegetarian day for me. Kinda of anti-social, though. Everyone is thinking of something fanciful and I would be rolling my eyes to signal, me, me is vegetarian today!

hakkachan

As Agnes and I were anxiously waiting for the rightful ingredients to arrive for our Banana Chocolate Chip Upside Down cake, Agnes had a  surprise and needed to entertain visitors for the afternoon. Immediately, the possibility of eating out was crossed out and I was so delighted when Momsie was all game to dish out a simple vegetarian Lui Cha as lunch. I was never a fan of Lui Cha until I met Stevie and married into this Hakka family.

A good Lui Cha needs a great tea broth. Momsie has a secret recipe for this and over the years, this green tea broth paste has evolved. I remember Stevie telling me that our dad prefers the good old fashioned cheap brown tea leaves, salt, basil and peanut paste without the assortment of interesting herbs that Momsie had introduced over time. Anyway, I have never tried the original version but am thoroughly pleased with the current make.

Lui Cha is a traditional must- serve dish on the 7th Day of the Chinese Lunar calendar, whereby you treat guests and neighbours to a handsomely dish assorted with 7 green vegetables, preserved vegetables, dried shrimps and peanuts over a generous herbal broth.

Nowadays, you see all shops claiming to serve healthy, organic and authentic Lui Cha. I find them not as tasty as Momsie’s, I can be prejudiced.

At home, it is a spontaneous and friendly treat. Very forgiving. You can serve with whatever greens you can find and as long as you can have 2 types, a sensible Lui Cha can be served. I think we only have cabbage and green long beans for today’s dish. It was absolutely delicious and hearty.

I liked my Lui Cha served on plain white rice with my tea broth by the side. Stevie likes his with popped rice bathed with generous green tea and peanuts.

It’s absolutely halal and I would really loved to cook this dish for my Malay friends. Although eating Lui Cha is an acquired taste, I am sure many will find this dish healthy and refreshing.

hakkachan

Momsie makes them stock-cubes and frozen for easy future use. This broth paste is probably the most important part of a great lui cha meal. Made from mint and 2 kinds of basil, green tea leaves, sesame seed and peanuts all ground to a heavenly paste. Each family will have their own little secret concoction in terms of the ratio and choice ingredients.

hakkachan

Peanut is a must-have condiment, they make the sober and simple vegetables taste so nice together. I am going nuts.

hakkachan

Although the cubes of stock are already packed with herbs, Momsie makes sure we add in a generous amount of finely chopped herbs that we can pluck from her garden. Agnes has already got a small plot going and growing healthily with these basil and mint.

hakkachan

I have no idea what these herbs are called. I will keep you posted when I have them verified. They smell and taste so aromatic and delicious.

hakkachan

Just need to dice and mince whatever vegetables you can gather. The more the merrier but 2 is great enough.

hakkachan

A simple Hakkachan Lui Cha.

hakkachan

Simple yet wholesome. Warms my heart.

Hee Pan 喜板

Hee Pan or Xi Ban, 喜板, is a childhood snack I loved, growing up in the then famous hakka village in Salak South. Back in the 60s, my mom used to treat us Hee Pan, and they used to taste so good.

Today, all 3 generations, my daughter, mom and I are crazy over Hee Pan. Any morning market outings, be sure we will pack few home for each other.

There is this warm, 溫暖 feeling and it has all to do with the texture, with every bite. It brings a special bond or attachment, yet it doesn’t stick and suffocate. You got it, right? That special feeling.

Hee Pan is generally a must item for Hakka weddings, birthdays and traditional ceremonies. Momsie makes them, especially in pink for such occasions. In less formal setting, she would use just about whatever flour in stock, whatever colour or flavour that fancy her that instance.

Marrying into the chan family, lets me enjoy many hakka cuisines. Some popularly available outside, more interesting are the many dishes,  chan-ised or adapted by momsie.

This Hee Pan snack is no exception.

Momsie is not making the regular pink ones. We are making Sweet Potato Hee Pan and she is sharing with us her secret recipe. If you noticed from the regular food blogs and their recipes, it calls for 2 doughs. The long wait for fermentation, some specify 6 hours or ovenight. This process that takes longer is absolutely unnecessary.

Momsie can do it all in 2 hours.

There are recipes that uses just wheat flour or a combination of wheat flour and glutinous rice flour.

Momsie’s secret ingredient ……. a little rice flour

SWEET POTATO HEE PAN

MAIN INGREDIENTS :

200 grams               steamed sweet potatoes

500 grams               glutinous flour

700 grams               wheat flour

200 grams               rice flour * (secret recipe)

200 grams               sugar

650 ml                      lukewarm water

2 tbs                          cooking oil (for dough)

t tablespoon              yeast (add with warm water)

2 tbs                          cooking oil (to mould)

.

Brightly coloured orange potatoes are favoured, for the adventurous the purple ones are fun too. Momsie is easy. You can choose to steamed them peeled tuber or a faster way is to quickly boil them with some water. If you boiled, recycle the water for kneading dough. Use a small fork to mash the sweet potatoes up, set it aside.

Choose a big kneading pot, ideally with a large enough base and stable. Sieve in all flour ingredients, oil, sugar and slowly pour in the warm water while mixing them together. Gently fold in the yeast mixture and continue kneading. Momsie placed a floor mat at the bottom of the pot to ease my struggle. She truly wanted me to make my hands dirty with this Hee Pan, my maiden dish under her tutelage.

.

Knead for 20 minutes. Do not worry if they are soft and a little gooey. Dust some flour on your fingers, clean up all the little clumps stuck there. Wrap the pot with a big piece of cloth or close the top. We need to set it aside in a warm corner for an hour, the warmth will help the dough to rise.

While waiting, momsie and I made a visit to her garden to gather some banana leaves. For momsie, the banana leaf is a must. They add aroma when steamed. I understand you can buy them banana leaves from wet markets and supermarkets. If they are unavailable, your option would be parchment paper.

After an hour, the dough has risen. Momsie lend her hand, she says good, strong kneading gives rise to greater texture and bite.

Put the 2 tablespoon of oil into a small bowl, ready and handy to mould the sticky dough into small balls. Put enough water on the steamer wok to boil. Apply enough oil on your fingers and palms, slowly pull out enough dough to form a small ball and gently drop them onto the banana sheets.

Do not worry if there is randomness in size. Practice makes perfect, momsie consoled me. Put the first 20, arrange nicely on a steamer tray. By the time you finished transferring the balls into the sheets, the steamer wok is ready and the first tray has raised and form into beautiful bun shapes. They are ready to be steamed.

Steaming tips. Make sure water is boiling. Each tray takes 15 minutes, do not uncover and close the steamer lid in midst of steaming. Condensation on lid can drip down and spoil your tray of golden treasure. With every tray you steam, make sure to dry the steamer lid of the condensed water trapped.

Despair not if few turned out dimpled and ugly. Momsie said it is a common phenomenon she herself find difficult to explain. Maybe too much oil when mould them balls, our fingers were a little wet or water dripped down from the steamer lid. Baffles me. Another tip that momsie share is, remove all steamed buns to cool down on some old newspapers. They helped remove moisture trapped on the banana leaves, making safe storing possible.

A larger square banana sheet is used to allow for dough to rise and spread. Use a pair of good kitchen scissors to trim the excess leaves around the random shape of these steamed buns.

Hubby get to be my hero, willing to taste my first Swee Potato Hee Pan. Bravo. Eat them fresh. Every bite is so, so nice.

yong tau foo 釀豆腐

When was the last time you had a joyous Yong Tau Foo meal?

I am sick of all the half passed six Yong Tau Foo (YTF) being served on our plates daily.

If you noticed, the plastic-liked ones, full of cornstarch or synthetic food additives to make a Q-Q bite. I mean they can get away today because the younger generations don’t quite get to taste what we tasted decades back.

Back then, there weren’t wholesalers out there mass producing to serve the pasar malam vendors; wet market food sellers; etc. Every independent store owner were proud cooks and operators. Unlike the absentee ones today replaced by foreign worker cooks.

I remember way back when I was 8 or 9 years old. Fine, that makes it some 40 years back.

My best YTF came from a Hakka village in Salak South where I grew up. The old lady fondly addressed as “Pak Meh” used kurau salted fish, pork and fish paste to laced all the tofus and vegetables. I can remember the aroma and the sizzling sound of delicious meat patties against the brinjals and bittergourds. Heavenly smells and flavoursome bites.

Today, I don’t have to search very far. Momsie’s the answer.

I did not pre-inform her my intention to do YTF, therefore ingredients are not suffice. Fret not, mom is a queen of improvising ingredients and we all should learn too.

A little experiment here and there.

INGREDIENTS:

200 gm     pork

100 gm     fish fillet

2/3 pcs     chinese mushrooms

10 pcs       fried tofu or taukua

2 pulps     garlic

1 stalk      spring onion

1 inch      red carrot

1 tsp         salt

1 tsp         cornflour

salt and pepper and a dash of soya sauce

For convenience, you may buy the already pre-minced pork however, momsie’s advise is to choose pork belly that is generously striped with lean and fats. Fresh pork belly meat gives better flavour and bite. Slice thinly , you can easily mince them with a chinese cleaver knife on a thick chopping board.

When the meat is moderately mince, add in garlic, carrots and fish. Notice here that we use prawns to substitute the lack of fish. Mince further.

Move the mince ingredients into a deep bowl. Add in crushed salted fish, finely chopped scallion, salt, pepper and cornflour. Again, we have substituted crushed chopped anchovies/ikan billis for the salted fish. Use hands to fold in all ingredients to the mince meat heartily onto the bowl. When you feel the meat paste sticky and do not fall apart, they are ready.

Momsie is concerned about the quality of tofu that we are using. She could not buy from her regular vendor and we made do with these ugly and crinkled ones from the nearest mini market in Tanjong Minyak. Looks can be deceiving. Fret not.

Old wives advice to get the meat paste well onto tofu would be to dust the holes to be filled with cornflour. Momsie’s tip is to steam the stuffed tofu first.

All the tofu are stuffed and we have some meat paste left. So momsie’s decided to stuff some lady’s fingers from her garden. You can look out for whatever that is available in your kitchen or fridge; chillies, brinjals, bittergourds, mushrooms etc.

Walaw ……. freeze and eat them anyway, anytime in the future!!