Singapore Cooks

Recipe: Indonesian-Chinese lontong with chicken and emping

Julia Yany is motivated to cook when her child enjoys the dishes she whips up

Cooking was a chore for Indonesian-Chinese housewife Julia Yany - at least until she gave birth to her son Terry, who is now six years old.

Ms Yany, 38, says: "Previously, I found cooking boring. But it's different when you have a kid. When my son likes what I cook, it motivates me."

Terry's favourite dish, she says, is nasi kuning with turmeric fried chicken, omelette and sambal goreng petai.

Ms Yany, a Singapore permanent resident, is married to Singaporean Melvin Ong, 44, a regional products manager in the medical sector.

She moved here in 1998 from her home-town of Tasikmalaya, a city in West Java, Indonesia, where her family runs a business distributing and retailing agricultural equipment.

A special dish that reminds her of home is lontong chap goh meh - which is cooked by Peranakans to mark the last day of Chinese New Year.

What makes this dish different from the lontong found in Singapore is that her version contains chicken.

She also uses chayote, a pear-sized gourd, to add sweetness.

She serves the lontong with a side of emping (Indonesian melinjo crackers).

Of course, the dish also has ingredients found in the lontong in Singapore, such as rice cakes, fried firm tofu and hard-boiled egg.

It is the "perfect one-pot dish".

Ms Yany says you can substitute the chicken with beef or prawns.

If you want the rempah to be spicier, use chilli padi instead of red chilli and do not discard the seeds.

Ms Yany is not just a cook, but also a food photography enthusiast. She provided the props - wooden planks and an assortment of crockery and fabrics - for this photo shoot.

She also knows the best spot to get natural light in her kitchen.

"I get my inspiration from other people's food photographs."

She hopes to write her own cookbook one day.

"It is important to record the recipes to remember them," says Ms Yany, who posts her photos and recipes on her Instagram account (@miss_polkadot) as well as on Facebook.

Before becoming a housewife, the alumna of Singapore hospitality school Shatec ran a business from 2002 to 2010 with her sister selling clothes and handicraft bags from Indonesia.

Other dishes in her repertoire include braised pork belly and Korean ginseng chicken soup as well as a variety of kueh and sweet treats.

An ingredient she likes is the purple sweet potato, which she uses to add colour to soon kueh, ondeh ondeh, kueh dadar and ang ku kueh.

She is still working on perfecting her baking skills and aims to master piping cream flowers.

She made chocolate chip muffins for her mother's birthday and soon moved on to baking cakes with freshly whipped cream such as Black Forest cake (minus the alcohol), mango cake and a rainbow cake for Terry's sixth birthday.

Ms Yany uses only fresh ingredients. She says: "I do not use premixes in my cooking so that I can tweak the taste. When you make dishes from scratch, you have to be patient.

"I want my family to have the best."


LONTONG CHAP GOH MEH


The lontong chap goh mei by Ms Yany is different from the version found in Singapore because it has chicken in it. Ms Julia Yany, who is from Indonesia, says lontong chap goh mei reminds her of home. ST PHOTOS: SYAMIL SAPARI

INGREDIENTS

Oil for deep-frying tofu

800g or four blocks of firm tofu (tau kwa), each halved diagonally into triangles

Water for boiling eggs

6 eggs

For the rempah

6 red chillies, seeds removed

5 cloves of garlic, skin removed

10 shallots, skin removed

2cm ginger, skin removed

1 Tbs turmeric powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

50ml water

3 Tbs oil

2 Tbs dried shrimp, soaked in warm water and pounded till fine

4 slices of galangal, skin removed and thinly sliced

5 bay leaves

2 stalks of lemongrass, cut into 5cm-long pieces and bruised with a pestle or the back of a knife

1 whole kampung chicken, chopped into small pieces

400ml coconut milk

1.2 litres water

600g to 1kg lontong, sliced into 1cm-thick discs and quartered (available at supermarkets)

3 carrots, skin removed and julienned

600g chayote, skin and seed removed, julienned

8 stalks long beans, ends removed and cut into 2.5cm pieces

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

1 cube chicken stock

Fried shallots for garnish

Emping (Indonesian Melinjo crackers)

METHOD

1. In a wok, heat oil to deep-fry the firm tofu for three to five minutes on each side, or till a light golden brown. Remove from oil and set aside.

2. In a pot, bring water to a boil and boil the eggs for 12 minutes. Peel the eggs and set aside.

3. Place the rempah ingredients in a blender and blend till you get a fine mixture.

4. In a large pot, heat oil and pour in the rempah. Then add the dried shrimp, galangal, bay leaves and lemongrass and fry on medium-low heat.

5. After 10 to 15 minutes, when the rempah has lost most of its moisture, lower the heat and add the chicken pieces.

6. Fry the chicken in the rempah for about five minutes, then add the coconut milk and water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and let it simmer for 45 minutes.

7. While the chicken is simmering, steam the lontong for 15 to 20 minutes in a steamer or wok. Remove and set aside to cool.

8. Add in the carrots, chayote and long beans. Simmer for another 15 minutes or till the vegetables soften. Add salt, sugar and chicken stock to taste.

9. Add the fried beancurd into the gravy, then turn off the heat.

10. In a dish, plate the lontong and a hard-boiled egg and scoop the gravy and its ingredients over. Garnish with shallots. Repeat for the remaining portions of lontong and serve with emping (Indonesian melinjo crackers).

Serves six

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 12, 2018, with the headline 'Son spurs her on to cook'. Print Edition | Subscribe