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Nyonya Rice Salad

This dish is typical in northern Malaysia and is usually served as part of a banquet.

150g flathead fillets (can use any firm, white flesh fish)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soaked in boiling water for 10 minutes, drained and coarsely chopped
700g (3 1/2 cups) steamed jasmine rice (about 240g uncooked), cooled
1 stalk of lemongrass, white part only, thinly sliced
4 snake beans, finely chopped (alternatively use green string beans)
3 shallots, thinly sliced
45g (1/2 cup) desiccated coconut, roasted
Pinch of caster sugar
5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced (can substitute for zest of lime)
1/2 cup Vietnamese mint, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, thinly sliced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, seeded and finely chopped

Rub fish with 2 teaspoons sea salt, then heat oil in a frying pan, add fish and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until golden. Drain fish on paper towel, cool, then flake into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

Add soaked shrimps, rice, lemongrass, snake beans, shallots, roasted coconut and sugar, then season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and gently combine. Gently fold in hersb and cucumber, then transfer salad to a large bowl or plate and serve immediately.

The Culinary Chase’s note: This dish is lovely on its own. If Thai basil is not available then use regular basil. I used only one shallot as the one I had was large, however, you can always add more if needed. Don’t be put off by the pungent smell of the dried shrimps. Once soaked in the hot water, the smell is reduced and adds a nice salty flavor to the sweetness of the coconut.

Nyonya food is an interesting amalgamation of Chinese and Malay dishes thought to have originated from the Peranakan (Straits Chinese) of Malacca over 400 years ago. This was the result of inter-marriages between Chinese immigrants and local Malays, which produced a unique culture. The ladies are called nyonyas and the men babas. Peranakan means “locally born” in the Malay language.

Porcelain is another important part of Peranakan households. Most of these wares have intricate motifs of flowers, butterflies and phoenixes in bright yellow and rose pink, unlike typical Chinese porcelain.

This is a ceramic nyonya dish I bought when I lived in Singapore. It comes with four sections; each able to hold different foods. I have used it on a few occasions and not only is it a lovely display piece for your table, it’s always a topic of conversation.