Malay food, contrary to popular perception, is easy to veganize despite it being a meat heavy cuisine. Meat can always be replaced with other proteins or “meaty” plants. With the variety of spices in Malay food, plant-based dishes can be made tasty. The challenges are replacing the two seafood-based foundations of Malay cuisine – belacan (shrimp paste) and ikan bilis (dried anchovies).
This is my first Malay recipe post. Being a vegetarian pretty much since birth, the only exposure I had to Malay food was mainly mock meat rendang, nasi lemak, mee rebus etc from Chinese vegetarian stalls. Not very legit, I know! Having a good arsenal of creative vegan Malay recipes under my belt is a major goal. Mine may not be of makcik level, but they will be tasty, at least according to my taste buds!
Bee hoon goreng is the first attempt, because it has many familiar ingredients also used in Chinese cuisine. It is a dry rice noodle dish that is lightly fried then slowly simmered till the noodles absorbed all sauces. I topped it with sweet and sour tempeh made with kicap manis (sweet soy sauce) and lime juice. My first step was to find base flavours in place of belacan and ikan bilis to be pounded into the rempah (spice paste).
We are lucky to have vegan belacan available cheaply at most Chinese vegetarian grocery shops. These shops are in almost every neighbourhood, usually under HDB or in wet markets. If you can’t find, check this list. Do call before going down as the list may be outdated. I’ve used vegan belacan in a previous fish-y sauce recipe. And grab a bottle of sambal belacan while you’re there too.
Vegan belacan is usually made in Malaysia, from fermented soy. There are 2 types, powdered and ball-shaped paste. The ball paste is more pungent so it’s my usual default choice. However, I feel that it’s less pungent than shrimp belacan (I can smell it many units away when my Malay neighbour is cooking!). Since in Malay cuisine, more pungency = more flavour, it takes a bit more to bring out the potential of soy belacan. I usually use twice or more the amount and fry it for longer than the original recipe calls. It smells absolutely delicious when fried with oil!
For a vegan alternative of fish flavours, we look towards the sea too! Plenty of sea plants can give a fishy, briny ocean flavour. The idea of using kelp occurred after mom complained that the kelp buds I purchased from the vegetarian grocery shop were too fishy. I’ve not seen those sold at supermarkets, but I believe wakame (found in Japanese food section of NTUCs) and regular kelp (found in dried foods shops) can work too. Nori and hijiki may be too light tasting to use here. Dried sea plants usually have small amounts of sand, so rinsing thoroughly is a must.
BEEHOON GORENG WITH KICAP MANIS TEMPEH (SERVES 1)
For rempah (spice paste):
- 1/4 cup dried kelp buds, rinsed and chopped into smaller pieces
- 1 tsp vegan belacan
- 2 garlic cloves (For allium-free, use more ginger/sauce)
- 0.5 cm thick ginger
- 1 dried red chilli
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 tbsp vegetarian oyster sauce or 1 tsp marmite
- 1 tbsp kicap manis
- 1/2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 cup stock/water, or as needed.
For main dish:
- 1 tbsp vegetarian sambal belacan (available at Chinese veg grocery shops)
- 1 serving dry bee hoon
- 1 medium sized tomato, diced
- Small handful of mung bean sprouts
- 1/3 of a carrot, cut into sticks
- 4 straw mushrooms, sliced into half
- 4 – 6 chives, cut into 1 cm long pieces (for pungent roots-free, use coriander stems)
Garnishes (optional, as needed):
- Sliced chilli
- Chopped spring onions (for pungent roots-free, omit or use coriander leaves)
- 1 lime, top sliced off
For kicap manis tempeh:
- 50g fresh market tempeh, sliced
- 2 – 3 tbsp kicap manis (or use 3 tbsp light soy sauce with 1 tbsp coconut/palm sugar)
- 1 lime, top sliced off
- Pound all rempah ingredients in a pestle and mortar till a dry paste.
- Mix 1/3 cup stock/water with all sauces into a bowl. Keep the rest of plain stock/water beside when cooking to be used if the pan is too dry and sticking.
- In a pan with a cover, heat oil over medium heat. Fry rempah for 2 mins till fragrant – flip often to avoid burning. Add sambal belacan and fry for 1 min or longer if using store bought sambal. Add tomatoes and fry for 2 mins, until tomatoes soften. Pour some stock, just enough to cover ingredients, simmer with lid for 2 mins.
- Add bee hoon, carrot, mushrooms, chives and mung bean sprouts. Top up with more stock, just enough to cover bee hoon. Cover pan and simmer on low heat for 4-6 mins, or till bee hoon is softened but not mushy, and have absorbed all stock/water. Check around the 3 mins mark so ensure there’s enough liquid and beehoon won’t burn. Remove from heat.
- Meanwhile, make kicap manis tempeh. Add kicap manis into a pan with some oil if not using non-stick. Heat till slight bubbling, then add tempeh. Cook till sauce is reduced and flip tempeh to coat and glaze well.
- Top beehoon goreng with tempeh and optional garnishes. Squeeze lime over it and serve hot.
- Usually bee hoon is presoaked before using, but I think this recipe needs a longer simmering time for flavours to sink in. I’ve tried with presoaked brown rice noodles, they turned out too mushy. I prefer a firmer noodle so I recommend using dry one.
- I personally prefer cooking in claypot as it retains heat very well so ingredients are cooked fast, you can use any pan/shallow pot with a lid.
- You can also use any other noodles you prefer or have on hand.
- Always use stock rather than water for better flavour. An easy way to get some stock is soak dried mushrooms and seaweed in warm water for 15mins, then strain out the liquid to be used as stock.
- This dish originally uses lots of onion/garlic. To cater to those veg*ns who don’t take alliums, I’ve modified it to use tomatoes for umami.
- One lime usually isn’t enough. I always use 2-3 😉