We are all familiar with the sweetmeats tray for Chinese New Year where cookies and cakes associated with the festival are offered to guests – love letters, tarts, kueh bangkit (Malay for “risen cake”, made of tapioca flour and coconut milk), kueh bengka (baked tapioca cake) and such.
In my home, aside from the sweetmeats tray, I like to offer a savoury tray, filled with salty titbits such as ham cubes with pineapple, top shell with ginger, chilli and lime and, of course, Nyonya favourites such as kueh pie tee, otak-otak (spiced fish cake) and babi assam garam (tamarind pork).
And these savoury bites are versatile: I not offer them not only during Chinese New Year, but also at drinks parties where drinkers prefer savoury to sweet tastes.
If you are concerned about the effort involved, don’t be. Many of the items require only assembly. And I have ways of making even the more traditional recipes easy. Like babi assam garam, which I now make in the oven – it sure beats the oil splatter of frying the marinated pork, which is traditional, before serving it.
This no-mess tamarind pork is marinated pork belly mellowed by sugar and salt, then seared to an appetising finish
Crisp pastry shells filled with shredded jicama braised in prawn stock, topped with a spunky chilli sauce
The spicy fish cake made easy, using a food processor and the oven
Sylvia Tan is a cookbook author with nine cookbooks to her name. Her latest, ‘Asian Larder’, is a compendium of Asian spices and seasonings, with more than 100 recipes on how to use these ingredients.