Thursday, 10 May 2012

Malaysian Layered Murtabak

I have a habit of lusting after new and old cookbooks and as a result the collection is getting quite large. I don't know the exact numbers but it fills quite a few shelves and I can't see an end to its growth. (I have though, made up a category system that they fall into*) It doesn't help that certain members of my family are feeding this addiction. Indeed when my parents-in-law visit any foreign country on holiday they will always bring me back an English language version of a local cookbook full of the country's specialities. Some of these books have some temptingly wacky recipes. Curried eggs on chipsticks and cow's udder are sitting deep in the archives biding their time. In the spirit of food exploration our blog is now following, I have decided to release some of these mutant recipes from their cookbook prisons in a new series of posts.

One of these recipes is in the very bright, Malaysian Favourites which contains dishes by some of Malaysia's most noted cooks. It's full of spicy curries and strangely colourful gelatinous desserts but it was one recipe in particular that always caught my attention. Now there isn't anything that unusual about Murtabak, a range of variations of this stuffed pastry dish are cooked all over Asia but it is the main ingredient of this Malaysian version that makes it stand apart. Instead of the usual pancake or flatbreads, this one is made with layers of cream crackers with curried beef, coconut milk and evaporated milk. Intrigued to see how this flavour combination would work, I got cooking.

1/9th of the finished murtabak looking pretty much like the photo in the book. Appetizing isn't it.

This version of murtabak is supposed to be eaten cold and as it turned out was a pretty good lunch box filler. It is a bit like a curried coconut meat cake which, over the week it took to get through, really grew on me.
I have reproduced (quickly and loosely) the general recipe from Malaysian Favourites below with my own adjustments and some advice. You'll need a square tin or dish that will fit 6 or 9 cream crackers neatly in the base.

  • Fry a paste of garlic, shallots and ginger with enough curry powder for a minute or two then add 500g of minced beef. Fry for a few more minutes and add a mug of water. Cook until the water is evaporated (I add a couple of tablespoons of mango chutney at this point), add a couple of chopped onions, cook until soft, then leave to cool. 
  • Mix together a can of evaporated milk and a can of coconut milk and bring it to the boil. Season and set aside. 
  • Now build your murtabak: for the first layer dip crackers in the milk mixture and line them up neatly in the base of your dish. Then add layers of the beef mixture, chopped spring onions, chopped chillies beaten egg and back to soaked cream crackers. Repeat until you get to the top of your dish or run out of beef. Including the top and bottom layer you should have 5 layers of cream crackers. Pour over the rest of the milk and dot with butter.
  • Bake this beauty at 200C for 50 minutes and leave to cool. It should firm up nicely for you to slice, take to work and make all your colleagues jealous/disgusted.
In all seriousness this was pretty good. The chillies and spring onion do balance the coconut milk and evaporated milk to some degree. 

* My cookbook categories include:
  • Celebrity Chefs - Keeping it real 
  • Celebrity Chefs - Sell-out
  • Restaurant books - Cookable
  • Restaurant books - Uncookable
  • Weird Foreign 
  • Boring Foreign
  • Cooking Bibles
  • Ideas books
And finally
  • Books I actually cook from.

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