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.

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Wormwood, what a name!

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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.

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“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.

spring with Mrs. Chan

While affixing plastic peach blossoms onto her water jasmine plant, Momsie proudly advised me what’s blooming in her sporadic garden.

Then with her chin, she proudly pointed to me a ‘must see’, her prized wild ginger flowers.

I was expecting the magenta button ginger flowers we commonly find decorating in hotel lobbies and spas. But what I saw were two potted plants with very large majestic flaming tangerine petals with a pale, waxy honeycomb centre. They look unreal from a distance.

A few years ago, Agnes brought home a Chinese New Year’s hamper decorated with a few stalks of fresh exotic flowers. Momsie liked the flowers very much and decided to grow them and this is the result from that love-at-first-sight.

Googled but failed to find out it’s name.

Regrettably, I do not know the name of these brightly coloured flowers, but momsie calls them “Japanese Flowers”. There is a 3 feet by 6 feet patch of this flowers right behind our clothes line. They attract many bees, butterflies and dragonflies as they bloom in bursts of vanilla yellow, fuchsia and rosy red.

Lookie here, so pretty are these chillies! I laughed my head off when momsie told me that they were grown from the seeds she had saved from the last batch of dried chillies used for making her sambal.

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Pineapple Tarts

Mom likes to keep things simple, and improvises a lot.  She prefers to learn from her friends tips on this and that instead of referring to recipe books because they are “too complicated.”

And her favourite go-to person is Ang Cho.

Ang Cho is widely regarded as the grandmaster of kueh-making in our kampong, and has no peer in this department. At a distant second would be a man named Nam Hua, a baba who makes very high quality nyonya kueh as a home business.

Mom is very close to Ang Cho, a recent breast-cancer surviver who lives a stone’s throw away.

Ang Cho never use ready-made rice flour that comes in the bags. She mills her own, at home, using heavy granite mill, like we used to do too, when grandma was alive.

Although mom is not as meticulous as Ang Cho, there is a certain art to her seeming chinchai-ness.

And that very chinchai-ness gives her culinary a charm unreplicatable.

RECIPE for Pineapple Tarts

makes more than 100

INGREDIENTS:-

  • 1 kg of flour
  • 500 grams of margarine (set aside some to line on trays)
  • 13 eggs
METHOD:-
  1. Heat oven at 160 degree Celsius.
  2. Sieve flour into a large bowl for kneading.
  3. On the side, crack 8 eggs and beat them lightly but even.
  4. Slowly add the margarine and pour beaten eggs, use your fingers lightly to combine them.
  5. Lightly knead and form them into a few manageable portions.
  6. Set aside a small portion to be cut into tiny strips for decor.
  7. The balance 3 eggs to separate and beat the yolks for glazing.
  8. Use a large piece of polystyrene to roll out the dough.
  9. Use the tart cutter and form the tart base.
  10. Glaze egg yolk over the dough before placing the pineapple jam inserts.
  11. Decorate with trimmings for presentation as necessary.
  12. Glaze egg yolk over trimmings.
  13. Bake for 20 minutes.

RECIPE for Pineapple Jam 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 bowls of scraped pineapples
  • 3 bowls of sugar

METHOD:-

  1. Skin pineapple and scrape out the flesh. Drain flesh on a sieve for 10 minutes to obtain ½ cup of juice.
  2. Place the scraped pineapple flesh in a non-stick pan and add granulated sugar and pineapple juice.
  3. Place pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally for about ½ hour until pineapple jam is sticky.
  4. Set aside to cool.

of rituals & taboos

pic by stevie chan

These last 3 years, we have been happy camping at my mom’s and Agnes’s place. So when you “tumpang” you live life in moderation and full of courtesies. From now onwards, Stevie and I actually gonna experience living by ourselves.

I know, many people say that it’s easier to be playmates than house mates. It’s inevitable though, when you are married you got to try.

pic by Stevie Chan

I come from a family that practices a lot of Taoist rituals. Being the only girl in the family, I have been brought up, learning to assist my mom with everything that involves prayers, festivals and the altar.

All’s well. I am a very lazy Buddhist. I do not go far to pray as I have my altar in the heart. I see all religions as wanting to teach us to do good. To me, I adopt Buddhism merely as a philosophical guide to life. I am a strong believer of karma and reincarnations though.

Went to a Christian primary school, mixed with many Malay and Indian classmates throughout my elementary, secondary and university life. Heard enough of pantang-larangs throughout my life.

Our first encounter of “tolak-ansur” or “give and take” was on the house cleansing, a typical must do for most people before they officially habitat a new space. Be it an old house or newly built one. Most believe that there may be over-staying spirits that we must “invite out” before we can “move in”. Stevie’s fine with customary stuff as long as I don’t have to impose his participation. I am free to observe whatever I believe in.

Traditionally, mom would have insisted the “rice, salt and tea leaves” cleansing ritual. Equal parts of each, mixed together and being thrown to all corners of the house to rid bad chi. Knowing that it would be messy, mom suggested me to accord the vibrated coconuts practised by the disciples of Sahaja Yoga.

She checked the Chinese calendar, firstly, warned us against moving during the 7th Month or the Ghost Festival Month. It was a fair request. Secondly, we cannot simply choose any day to move on the auspicious 8th Month. I was advised to move on the 12th of September, the 13th day of the 8th Month of the Chinese calendar.


pic by Stevie Chan

A week before the official moving date, yours truly bought 6 healthy coconuts. Meaning not those old ones that are dry or sprouting with shoots. The important thing here is to find the 3 “eyes”, 2 in front and the 3rd eye at the back. Carefully shaved them till you have quite a smooth surface to ease the drawing of a swastika with kumkum powder. I did the swastika clockwise to signify evolution. Finally, to go over the 3 “eyes” with kumkum as well.

I have placed these coconuts at the 4 corners of the living hall, and one each for the 2 bedrooms in our apartment. Through this puja session, we believe that these coconuts will help absorb all negative energies and protect us from any bad omen.

Been checking anxiously every morning when I wake up. To date, exactly a week after, none of these coconuts cracked.

A good sign that the house is pretty clean.

Ribena Lemonade

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Unusual but refreshing.

A lemonade pours on a hot, sizzling afternoon is most welcomed. The piquant taste of citrus wakes up any sleepy heads.

This Ribena Lemonade is Agnes’s usual serving, especially when we have plenty of children or non-alcoholic adults. Luke and I, fall soberly in this constituency.

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When life gives you lemons, don’t fret. Make a lemonade.

To draw out the lemon juice easily, always keep them at room temperature. They yield a greater amount of tangy juice.

For this lemonade, a large lemon should be sufficient. Half the fruit to draw out the juice and the remaining half, we slice to add as decorative.

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Ribena is a black currant syrup, commonly found in any household here in Malaysia. I guess, you tend to feel less guilty pouring in a grape cordial then white sugar into a lemonade. It’s psychological, no doubt. But it works. You tend to imagine that you are consuming less sugar. For those sugar and calories conscious freaks, you can moderate on the amount of Ribena used.

Pour in a cupful of ice cubes. Use larger ones as they tend to melt into pretty little ones when poured into glasses.

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I made a quick dash to the garden and pick 2 sprigs of peppermint. They not only add colour to the jug of lemonade but gives a tantalising hint of mint. Generally, if you like your cocktail carbonated you can pour in a litre of soda. Margaux and I are not big fans of gassy stuff, so we just make our lemonade with water instead.

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I call this the shy drink. None of the ingredients here overpower each other. They are a great team, working to bring out a state of cohesive taste. You get to taste the lemon and grape juice with a hint of mint, all in a gulp.

You can be adventurous though, put in a can of lychees with syrup in replacement of the Ribena and a whole new lemonade to enjoy.

nasi ayam ala briyani

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“But I’m starving,” said the wife while we’re stuck in a traffic jam on Kerinchi Link and the fuel indicator wouldn’t rise to the occasion.

“but what if the car stalls 200 meters from home?” said I.

There are 3 gas stations along the 2km stretch between here and the house, so why can’t we fuel up first?

“But I’m starving.” said the wife.

By the time we reached home it was indeed late and Margaux was starving as well.

Okay, 30 minutes, I told myself, you have 30 minutes to prepare a dinner for the 3 of us, you hear?

So, the usual “one-pot solution” came to mind and we have chicken, and we have rice, so naturally it’s gonna be chicken rice, right?

But chicken rice of what kind?

We all love the Hakka style chicken rice but that requires a copious amount of grated ginger and Margaux doesn’t like to have ginger in her mouth; but she could handle crushed ginger coz she could remove them from her plate.

And so I started crushing garlic and ginger, with their skin on, and browning them in the deep cast-iron pot, with some sea salt, on very low fire.

While the garlic and ginger were browning in the pot, I started washing the basmathi rice and an idea came to mind: bryani!

Margaux’s first encounter with bryani was at Auzani’s sister’s wedding banquet and she couldn’t stop eating it, and I have “tapao” bryani for her a couple of time since then.

But bryani is a time-consuming meal to make, and I have 30 minutes.

And so I started boiling the rice in a pot of salted water, and when the rice was half-cooked, I removed it from the stove and drained the water.

I then mixed the chicken with the now browned garlic and ginger, spread them to cover the bottom of the cast-iron pot, and then added the half-boiled rice to completely cover the chicken.

Fearing the rice might lack flavour, I added a huge chunk of butter at the top of the pile, and sprinkled some sea salt on it.

And then another idea came to mind: eggs!

And so that’s how the 3 eggs landed in the pot as well.

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I knew it back then that it will take more than 30 minutes to cook that meal, and I was secretly hoping that they wouldn’t mind waiting if I keep them entertained. But I was no entertainer.

  

Margaux loved the meal, but wifey and I knew that we should’ve let it cook for another 10 minutes to be perfect.

But we were starving.

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Mee Hoon Kueh – 麵粉粿

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In Hakka, it is called Mien Geow.

I know what “mien” is, but never the “geow” part. The only other “geow” I know actually means the dog.

It is hard to find a simpler meal than the humble Pan Mien, or “board noodle”: flour-and-water dough, ikan bilis stock, salt, and choysum. That’s it. Forget about the poached eggs and sambal.

In my family, this poor man’s noodle is a love affair.

When my grandma was around, we have a 30 kg cast-iron wok measuring 3 feet across the top, and it sat permanently on a wood fire stove; and it was in this wok that my grandma would cook pan min, in wholesale quantity.

When eaten freshly cooked, pan min is light and springy; and the fragrance of the ikan bilis stock sticks to your memory like a jealous girlfriend of your youth.

The leftover from lunch would then sit in the wok till dinner time when it takes on a hearty, stout, and full-bodied personality.

Pan Min is pure magic: one dish, with time, two personalities.

          

My mom cooks like my grandma did, in the sense that she doesn’t “prep” her stuff, or in professional kitchen parlance, mise en place.

She is not a chef; she doesn’t know the 68 ways to cut a carrot. Nor does she keep recipe cards.

It’s always a joy to watch her in the kitchen, this natural cook in my family.

But that’s a story for another time.

This afternoon we have a bunch of kids over for a swim-in, and with all the adults around, my mom needs to cook for about 10 people, in 30 minutes or less.

         

And guess what she cooked?

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Mee Hoon Kueh Recipe

INGREDIENTS

For Pasta Dough:-

  • 1 kg of plain flour
  • water
  • salt

For Cooking:-

  • prawn/chicken/meat, sliced and marinate quickly with soya sauce , tapioca flour and a dash of pepper
  • choy sum or any greens you can grab
  • mushrooms (optional)

For Stock:-

  • ikan bilis, washed and drained
  • some oil
  • salt
  • water
  • tung choy or preserved vegetables (optional)

For Garnishing:-

  • fried shallot
  • cilantro and spring onions
  • fried ikan bilis
  • chili padi with soya sauce
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 METHOD

  1. Knead flour, salt and water (add water bit by bit) into a dough. Knead bit by bit till the entire dough is smooth and not sticking to your hands. Takes more than 10 mins of kneading. Rest the dough while you start preparing others.
  2. Prepare meat, either prawns, chicken or pork. Cut them into reasonable bite size and marinate.
  3. Wash and pick vegetables. Set aside for later use.
  4. In a big wok fry all ikan bilis, scoop out what is needed as garnishing. Leave desired quantity, pour in sufficient water and brew into stock. You can choose to sieve out the bland ikan bilis while I know many who don’t mind it in.
  5. Hand peel dough into small pieces of pastas and throw into stock.
  6. When completed, start putting in meat and vegetable last.
  7. Salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Let individuals decide on the garnishing they like.

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A delightful meal for most kids.

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Novia lazing around after a hearty meal.

Article contributed by Stevie Chan.