The wife has been a bit under the weather for the past two days and so tonight, I took the opportunity to revive my cooking skills.
I had my son cook the rice and also make some scrambled eggs. I decided to try out the sambal ikan bilis belimbing buluh recipe that I included in the previous post. Our belimbing tree is still sprouting bunches of fruits and I picked some fresh ones to be used in this dish.
Since it was the first time of trying, I wasn't sure what to expect. As all good cooks know, the method mentioned in any recipe is generally just a guide. It takes a fair bit of judgement and personal experience to decide on just when and how much a particular ingredient is to be added. For example, the phrase `... goreng hingga kekuningan' can be quite ambiguous to a novice. To what degree of `kuning' shall the paste be fried to?
Anyway, I could not follow the recipe exactly because I did not have shallots (substituted with plain bawang besar) and bird's eye chillies (replaced with plain cili hijau). Although I used a bit of soy sauce, the sambal did not quite turn out totally black (is it supposed to be?). It was more of a deep dark brown colour. I suspect it would've turned darker if I continued to fry it until `garing', as spelt out in the recipe. But rather than risk it being overcooked, I stopped the frying just as when I thought it tasted about right.
So exactly how did my sambal hitam taste? Not as good as the ones my Pahang-based readers have mentioned, I'm sure, but boleh la... as a first attempt. According to my wife and sons, not too bad. The sambal has a nice tangy taste of the asam belimbing while maintaining the flavour of the ikan bilis.
With a bit more practice, I believe I can improve on the taste. I'm sure using shallots instead of large onions makes a big difference. The quality of the ikan bilis itself is quite important too. In the hands of a master cook, this dish is guaranteed mouth-watering. It goes down well with plain white rice. I reckon it would also go well with ubi rebus.
While I was at it, I also cooked another version of ikan bilis goreng asam... basically as a back-up, just in case the sambal hitam attempt resulted in failure. This recipe is a variation of the one I learnt from my mother. It involves frying the ikan bilis until crisp and then temporarily set aside. Fry some chopped onions, garlic and chopped green chillies until fragrant. Add a dash of oyster sauce and soy sauce plus salt to taste. The original version would then use a bit of air asam jawa (tamarind paste mix). I substituted this with fresh asam belimbing slices. After a few minutes of frying, the ikan bilis is added back into the pan and mixed well with the sauce.
Served with hot plain rice, this dish is simple but delicious. It was a life-saver during the years I struggled as a student overseas. Sorry about the plain-looking picture. Too hungry to wait.
The final dish I prepared was ayam goreng kunyit dengan kacang buncis. This choice was really based on what I could find in the fridge; two pieces of chicken fillet and some french beans. Quick, easy and tasty too.