Opposites attract, so bland, tasteless timun (cucumber) and spicy, hot sambal (chilli paste) are the proverbial match made in Nyonya heaven. And when the matchmaker is Mrs Wee, you can be assured it's a particularly blissful match.
Besides the usual red chillies and belachan, the ex-First Lady also uses pounded kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced bungah kantan (torch ginger bud) and julienned calamansi lime peel. That's a lot of intense flavours already but there's more.
There's a special touch in Mrs Wee's sambal timun: dried prawns which are dry-fried and then ground. The toasting gives the prawns a wonderful fragrance not found in other recipes that don't have this step. It also dries up the prawns which then soak up the calamansi lime juice, along with the delicious mix of flavours from belachan, chillies, lime leaves, lime peel and bungah kantan.
The dressing is looking good already but it's not done yet. Sliced shallots and blanched Chinese celery are tossed into the spicy paste, along with some salt and sugar. Mix, mix, mix . . . . Ok, now it's done. There're 12 ingredients in the Nyonya dressing, and each one plays a crucial role. It is, I tell ya, one awesome sambal that makes timun taste good. Who says cucumber is boring?
Sambal timun can be made without meat but if you have a carnivorous streak, Mrs Wee's recipe would make you very happy 'cause it has lots of soft, tender pork belly. Which, if you like, can be replaced with chicken and if you make it skinless, you'd have a tasty, fat-free salad. Hey, eat but don't forget about looking sexy in a see-through kebaya!
|SAMBAL TIMUN (SPICY PORK CUCUMBER SALAD)|
Source: Adapted from Cooking for the President
(Recipe for 8 persons)
300 g pork belly, cut 2 cm thick
500 g cucumber
30 g Chinese celery, cut 3 cm long, blanch in warm water and drain
50 g shallots, peel, rinse and slice thinly
45 g dried prawns, rinse, dry-fry or toast till semi-dry and grind till fine
½ cup calamansi lime juice (20-25 limes!), or 4 tbsp Chinese white vinegar
15 g calamansi peel (2 limes), rinse and julienne
2 bungah kantan (torch ginger buds), tender part only, rinse and slice thinly
40 g large red chillies (2 pieces), rinse
red cili padi (bird's eye chillies) to taste, 6-10 pieces, rinse
2 kaffir lime leaves, medium size, rinse, tear and discard veins
15 g belachan (2 tbsp), toast till fragrant
½ tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
Simmer pork belly in salted water till just tender, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut crosswise 3 mm thick.
Rinse and halve cucumber lengthwise. Deseed and cut diagonally 5 mm thick. Soak in water for 10 minutes. Drain.
Prepare dried prawns, Chinese celery, lime juice, lime peel, shallots and bungah kantan as indicated above.
Cut chillies and kaffir lime leaves into small pieces. Pound or grind with belachan into a fine paste.
Place all ingredients in a big bowl. Mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.