Cooking up a storm

Lyna Mohammad

The second wave of COVID-19 has led to many businesses and offices applying work from home practices, schools returning online and parents getting extra duties with children staying at home, and for many, it has also been a time of boredom.

However, on a positive note, more time at home can also mean more quality family bonding as well as more time for people to sharpen their skills in a number of fields.

With many eateries offering take-away and limited deliveries, there are people who are more likely to prepare their own meals.

To them, not eating out doesn’t mean they can’t indulge in their love for food and there are also some bold enough to learn new recipes and also put their own twist on them.

TIME TO COOK

For housewife Hajah Erna, cooking is enjoyable and keeps her stress-free, while helping her improve her skills. Cooking is also her hobby. Being at home during the pandemic gave her more time to cook.

This also allows her to have complete control of her kids’ meals, in terms of how much to serve, as well as helping save money.

Her ideas normally come from asking her family what they would like to have, checking recipes online, or calling her mother.

Mee Rebus Jawa, a Javanese-style noodle soup served in sweet potato-based curry gravy. PHOTOS: BAHYIAH BAKIR & LYNA MOHAMAD
Raw cakes by Aziyah and Azrin

Her signature dish, which is one of her family’s favourite meals, is her Mee Rebus Jawa, a Javanese-style noodle soup made with yellow noodles, chicken, fish cakes, vegetables, eggs and spices with a gravy made of beef stock blended with sweet potato as a base to thicken the soup.

While it is a family recipe from her mother’s side, Hajah Erna applies her creativity to adjust the dish to her liking and indirectly calls it her very own Mee Jawa.

“My children love noodles and it has always been one of their favourite meals since the day my mother cooked it for them. Since they don’t see their grandmother due to the pandemic, every time they miss her, they ask me to cook Mee Rebus Jawa. Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing them enjoy the food I cooked with love,” she said.

FULL OF CREATIVITY

Meanwhile, Hajah Norsiah shared she simply can’t laze around waiting for night to fall each day. Her usual routine to kill boredom would be going to her kitchen to utilise her culinary skills.

She usually has something in mind she wants to make, be it her own recipe from years ago to something that she saw on TV, except it will be more of an experiment as she gives her own twist based on flavours that she deems right for it.

Even at the age of 88, she is still full of ideas and creativity and what she comes up with usually turns out well. Regardless whether the added twist only gives a slight change to taste, it is enough to put a smile on her face and she will start to plan what is best to add on next.

Most of the dishes she puts her own spin on are local kampong dishes. At her age, Hajah Norsiah said she needs her to be watchful of what she takes, and makes it a point to try as much as possible to avoid the use of unhealthy ingredients.

A SHARED PASSION FOR BAKING

Married couple Aziyah Yaakub and Azrin Maideen possess the same amount of passion and patience in honing their baking skills.

“It started when we were looking to improve our general health by incorporating more wholefoods into our diet while minimising heavily processed food. Over time, we became more cautious about what we put in our food,” Aziyah said.

The first raw cake she made was for her mum’s birthday. Having wanted to make a cake that does not contain refined sugars, artificial colouring or flavouring, she and her husband went as far as to make their own home-made vanilla extract from real vanilla beans.

The family loved the cake, and some were slightly puzzled by its taste as it was different from traditional cakes.

Proud of the achievement, she posted a photo of the cake online, which got people curious and they began asking her if they could place an order.

Surprised with the positive reviews from their first few customers, things grew steadily from there, as did the request orders, especially from those who follow a vegan diet and those with children with specific dietary requirements.

Aziyah explained that raw cakes do not require baking or cooking, use wholefood and plant based ingredients, and are quite popular in countries with four seasons.

The main ingredients in raw cakes are nuts, which are turned into a creamy consistency and when popped in the fridge, are almost ice-cream like. They even ferment some of the nuts using probiotics so they are lighter on the tongue and stomach.

“One thing led to another – we started experimenting with making chocolates from cocoa nibs and, after many failed attempts, we made sweet confections called bonbons using our very own home-made chocolate.”

She shared that, as with their raw cakes, the bonbons, which are a type of confection composed of chocolate shells and fillings, are made without refined sugar, artificial colouring or flavouring and it was her husband who insisted on making them.

A DISH TO TRY

In addition, I’d like to mention an Iranian dish that readers would perhaps like to try preparing at home. This was recommended to me by the Embassy of Iran in Brunei Darussalam.

Fesenjan is a chicken stew dish made with walnut and pomegranate molasses. It is one of the wonders of Iranian cuisine and may be described as one of the most delicious, nutritious and elegant dishes to try.

The sweet and sour flavour of pomegranate molasses, the silky texture of ground walnut, and the magnificent odour of Fesenjan will take one to the heart of northern Iran, Gilan Province where it originated from.

With a sauce that is rich from ground walnuts with an unusual sweet-tart flavour from pomegranate molasses, it can also be replaced with duck or meatballs and is a classic Persian dish that deserves to be better known.

All in all, amid the current times, as long as you keep your mind positive, nothing is impossible. You never know, a silver lining of the pandemic may well be something that could be a great venture. So chins up everyone and stay positive and healthy!