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Ayam Masak Merah (Red Chilli Chicken)

For someone who writes and manages a food blog felicitously named, Hooked on Heat, it comes as a surprise to many when I confess that until very recently, say a couple of years ago, I belonged to the clan of folks who shied away from all things spicy. Ironically, it always petrified my Mom how her first-born could ever be averesed to eating spicy food. Being one who can’t swallow a meal that lacks in the redness that can only be born out of the addition of hand-ground chillies, not once did she smile while separating my portion of the daily meal before spicing it up for the rest of the family.

As the years passed, I began to discover my taste preferance and my spice level tolerance grew along with it. So much so, that it surprised my Mom a few days ago, how much heat I can actually tolerate when it comes to my favourite foods. Malay food, obviously being one of them. Like two long lost best friends, Mom and I have been spending lots of time bonding in the kitchen over gossip and spice bottles. She, imparting her wisdom and showing me the tricks of the trade, and me, trying to grasp as much information as I can during the six short weeks that she’s here. And amidst it all, Hubby Dear has been his most happiest with the wide spread Malay dishes that Mom lays on the dinner table with such ease.

A few days ago, much to her delight, she discovered a jar of Sambal Olek in my fridge, which only motivated her more to enter the kitchen and whip something up. Over a discussion of what we could try next, I thought of a dish that I chanced upon a few years ago on our trip to Malaysia. Whenever I find a recipe that works for me, I know that it can only get better from there. Whether it’s one concocted from my very own imagination, a desperate attempt to imitate something I happened to come across that just took my breath away, or one that a close friend solemnly swears by, I know that if I like it on my first try, then there won’t be any looking back. It took me only a few seconds before I could describe what I had in mind, and Mom was set to get to work.

The verdict, I licked my plate clean, and now have another favourite to add to my repertoire!

Prep time: 25 min | Cooking time: 20 min | Serves: 2 as a main, 4 as a side

2 large chicken breasts, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 small onion
1 medium-sized tomato
2 lemon grass stalks, discarding the rough green tops
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp sambal olek / chili paste
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tbsp light cooking oil
salt, to taste
water, as needed

MARINATE chicken in salt and turmeric, and set aside for 20-25 minutes.

BLEND onion, tomato and lemon grass to a smooth fine paste, adding a little water if necessary.

SAUTE the marinated chicken in hot oil till lightly browned, and set aside. In the same pan, fry ginger-garlic paste, Sambal Olek and onion-tomato-lemon grass paste, stirring continuously till sit tarts to give out oil from the sides.

ADD in chicken, salt and water if necessary, and stir fry till chicken in cooked through and the flavours absorbed. Serve piping hot with coconut rice and tall glass of iced lemonade.

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