Healthier Malay recipes in new cookbook

The recipes in Ms Rita's cookbook include favourites like sambal prawns and come from her family as well as contributors and established restaurants.
The recipes in Ms Rita's cookbook include favourites like sambal prawns and come from her family as well as contributors and established restaurants.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR STRAITS TIMES

Health-conscious lovers of Malay food can now have their kueh and eat it - thanks to a cookbook on traditional Malay dishes but with healthier ways of cooking them that was launched yesterday.

Compiled by former journalist and chef Rita Zahara, The Many Flavours Of Malay Cooking offers recipes with less oil, sugar and salt - but promising to taste just as delicious. These include favourites such as grilled chicken and sambal prawns, and come from her family as well as contributors and established restaurants.

Ms Rita, 40, said she hopes to do her part to combat diabetes, having lost her mother to diabetes-related complications eight years ago. "The disease is a slow killer - you eat unhealthy food in unhealthy amounts every day but you don't realise what it does to you until it's too late," she said.

In April, the Government declared "war on diabetes", as the illness affects about 400,000 here and costs more than $1 billion a year to treat. The disease also has a disproportionate number of Malay sufferers. Though the community makes up 14 per cent of the population here, members account for more than 24 per cent of those who are on dialysis.

Marine Parade GRC MP Fatimah Lateef, the guest of honour for the book launch, said she was heartened to see more books like Ms Rita's, and more restaurants putting healthier alternatives on the menu.

"This is a choice we have to make. We know the health statistics for the Malay community aren't very good," she told about 150 guests at Mamanda Restaurant along Sultan Gate. "We have to start young and early, which is the time we don't normally think about our health." she added. Dr Fatimah, who contributed two recipes to the book, for nasi briyani and sambal goreng, quipped: "There's no salt, sugar or oil in my house - and I cook good food!"

Yesterday also saw Li Da Foods - a group of food technology firms that Ms Rita co-founded - ink several agreements with industry partners to improve productivity through technology and food innovation. For example, Li Da is working with food innovator Faesol to develop diabetic-friendly salad dressings and baked goods. Said Ms Rita: "By working together as a consortium of companies with different expertise and strengths, we can create a great product that's ready to be marketed much faster."

The Many Flavours Of Malay Cooking is available at Popular and Kinokuniya bookstores, at $48.15.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2016, with the headline 'Healthier Malay recipes in new cookbook'. Print Edition | Subscribe