I’m heading off on my travels late next week, and it’s SUPER exciting to be returning to Malaysia as part of this. Kuala Lumpur is one of my favourite cities, being filled with wonderful people, wonderful food and wonderful things to see and do. It’s one of the places I feel I can really recharge in, and so an ideal holiday destination before embarking on a new job… and all the challenges which are sure to come my way.
In a way, I’ve never felt connected to my background in the same way that a first- or second-generation kid would do. Momma L is half-malaysian but grew up there, before coming to the UK for A levels and meeting Poppa L – but in broad terms that makes me about as ethnic as a Chicken Tikka Sandwich. It’s led to some fairly tetchy conversations as I’ve grown up. It’s not uncommon for people to do the following around me:
- Lay down some fairly Daily-Mail-esque opinions without realising I’m one of “them” (fortunately, this is rather uncommon, largely as I tend not to make a habit of continuing to know people who do this)
- Assume I’m adopted
- Ask “HOW IS THAT YOUR MUM???” (apparently, when blue-eyed Lewishambles appeared on the scene about thirty years ago, Momma L was often asked if she was actually the mother)
- Look at me skeptically until I produce a picture of my mother.
Usually I don’t think about it much, but sometimes – at times like these, when a wave of love and outpouring for refugees is cheering a heart saddened by anti-immigrant news stories and UKIP f***knuckles – I’m really glad I’ve got a smidgen of an insight which helps me to get a grip on what’s important.
That said, there’s an area in which I am undeniably, absolutely and resolutely Malaysian – my appetite.
There are a few things which make any Malaysian lose their minds with delight. Most of these I struggle to make – kuih requires specialist flours and a massive steamer, a proper Laksa requires ingredients I can’t get in my local Lidl (don’t tell me Jamie Oliver can make a decent alternative, because you haven’t had a steaming bowl of dreams next to the river in Melaka), I can’t make wonton mee without making a gluey mess of the noodles, and while I knock up a mean satay, I have always struggled with making Popiah which aren’t a soggy mess.
But there are a few things which are in my blood. And believe me, when your mother teaches you to fold a curry puff at age ten, that skill stays with you. Since then, I’ve gone on to make various horrible variations on a theme (spicy tomato and mackerel will have to be a thing of the past), but the classic filling is still the best. Occasionally I’ll knock it up as a brilliant thing to eat on toast, on piles of fluffy rice or just scooped up with bread. We’ve never deep-fried our curry puffs – even though it’s the traditional method, it’s a) too greasy, b) too messy and c) too dangerous. I mean, I once managed to cut open my thumb on a birthday card. How can I be allowed near a vat of boiling oil on a regular basis? Store-bought pastry is a fantastic and perfectly acceptable substitute – flaky puff is my favourite, being closest to the original, but a thin shortcrust will do in a pinch.
Make lots – because these tend to disappear quickly.
makes lots – at least 24, depending on size
250g beef mince (don’t go for the super-lean stuff, you want a bit of fat in the grind)
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
1 small 1/2-inch piece of ginger
2 tbsp meat curry powder (I use this brand, available online and in most asian food stores)
around 100 ml coconut milk
1 star anise
2 cardamom pods
1 potato, chopped into small dice (about 0.5 cm)
1 large handful frozen peas
250g ready-made puff or shortcrust pastry
- First, make your curry. Fry the meat until brown in a spoon of oil, then add the onions, garlic and ginger, until they’re soft and good smelling. Take your time with the meat, making sure it goes a bit crispy and the fat inside runs. Add the spices and curry powder, fry for a further two minutes then add the coconut milk and a cup of water. Simmer for at least 15 minutes for the flavours to come together, then add the potato and reduce down until thickened. You want the curry to be quite dry, as you’ll need it to go into pastry without mess, but you want to make sure the potato is cooked. So add a drop or two of water as necessary, being on the sparing side (no one likes mashed potato in their puff). When it’s done, take off the heat, add the frozen peas (they’ll defrost, honest) and leave to cool. Season to taste once warm – flavours are dulled by too much heat and you don’t want to over-salt this, because the puffs are more likely to be eaten once slightly cooler.
- Now, you’re ready to make the puffs. Roll out the pastry thinly, then cut out circles – I like to use the end of a pint glass for little pastries, but you can go as big or small as you choose. Around a 4-in cutter normally does me, but if you’re nervous about the complexity then go bigger – you’ll be able to see what you’re doing more easily. Then, you make your pastries! Remember to fish out the whole spices first unless you fancy an impromptu game of what I like to call “Malaysian Roulette”.
- I’ve put some pictures so you can see what you’re doing. If you’re going to cook these straight away, then heat the oven to 180C now.
- These freeze BEAUTIFULLY – so if you’re not planning on eating loads at once then a) take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror and tell me you don’t want to, then b) open-freeze the puffs on trays then pile into a plastic bag.
- Once you’re ready, then egg-wash and cook at 180C until puffed, golden and crispy – this will take around 12 minutes, or closer to 18 if you’re cooking from frozen. Don’t eat them right away unless you enjoy scalding your tongue.