Sweet, savory, spicy

in Food and Drink · 07-08-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments

Ella Walker discovers Southeast Asian flavours with a former MasterChef Australia finalist.

Sarah Tiong swapped her day job as a lawyer for competing on MasterChef Australia, becoming a finalist twice, no less, in 2017 and 2020.

She grew up eating the Malaysian food her mother - born in East Malaysia, who moved to Sydney in her teens - remembered and recreated for her family. Throw in Tiong's own memories of street food eaten on the roadside during trips to Cambodia and Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, and you can see the threads of each woven through this recipe collection.

Here's what we think of her debut cookbook...

The book: Sweet, Savory, Spicy by Sarah Tiong

Who will love it? Those with a taste for bright flavours, heat and spice, as well as those who love getting the barbecue out - there's a whole section on grilling (for starters, the Malaysian barbecued chicken with coconut and turmeric sounds significantly better than the usual BBQ fare of burgers and sausages). It also offers a way to travel to Southeast Asia via dinner - you don't just have to dream about perfectly nutty, moreish satay chicken, you can make Tiong's version.

What is it trying to get us cooking? Fresh, fragrant and punchy Southeast Asian dishes - the kinds of meals you'd likely find hawked on the streets of Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam, Lao and Thailand. Think grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves, laced with lemongrass; Nyona spicy tamarind fish curry; crispy spring rolls and papaya salad, prawn toast, and fried rice and noodle dishes topped with golden eggs. There's comforting Hokkein noodles, and proper Thai pork larb, as well as super sweet puddings like banana fritters, pandan crepes and sweet potato dumplings.

How easy is it to use? Very. While there's often multiple elements to each dish - say, a basting sauce to douse your porks rib in, or a flavoured oil to whisk up alongside your noodles, they're straightforward, and add serious impact, so adding one extra step is worth getting another bowl out for. Also, Tiong makes lots of serving suggestions (brilliantly a 'cold beer' occasionally gets a shout), so you can immediately see the table laid out in your mind, before you even start chopping.

The best recipe is... The street food sauces section is full of condiments (from sambals and chilli dips, to a creamy Malaysian peanut sauce) that we would easily eat by the bowlful. But standout dishes include the Vietnamese pork skewers (recipe below) and the grilled whole fish with a fiery sambal.

The recipe we're most likely to post on Instagram is... The Singaporean chilli mud crab - a whole crab, claws and all, emerges from a thick red spicy stew. It looks epic.

The dish we're least likely to try is... Well, we'd fully attempt the Malaysian turmeric lace pancakes, but it may take multiple attempts to perfect them - they look like delicate, cylindrical works of art.

Overall rating: 8/10 - the recipes make you instantly hungry, induce a craving for limes and chillies, and are accessible, fun, and exciting.

How to make the Vietnamese grilled pork skewers (Nem Nuong) from Sweet, Savory, Spicy by Sarah Tiong...


(Makes 10-12 skewers)

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 large red Asian shallots, finely chopped

3 bacon belly rashers (slices), finely chopped

450g 20% fat ground pork (note that 20 percent fat is the minimum amount of fat necessary for this recipe)

6g five-spice powder

18g cornstarch

45ml honey

45ml rice bran, canola or grapeseed oil

30ml fish sauce

15ml light soy sauce

15ml rice wine

Serving suggestions:

Vermicelli noodles, soaked in hot water for 10 to 15 minutes and drained

Lettuce leaves

Fresh Vietnamese mint stems and leaves

Fresh cilantro (coriander) stems and leaves

Spring onions, cut into 3- to 4-inch (7.5- to 10-cm) pieces

Rice paper

Vietnamese spicy dipping sauce


1. Soak 10 to 12 bamboo skewers in water for at least 30 minutes.

2. To make the pork skewers, combine the garlic, shallots and bacon in a food processor. Pulse a few times to mix the ingredients well, then process continuously until a coarse paste forms.

3. Transfer the paste to a large bowl. Add the pork, five-spice powder, cornstarch, honey, two tablespoons (30ml) of the oil, fish sauce, soy sauce and rice wine. Use your hands to mix the ingredients thoroughly, squeezing and pressing the mixture firmly as you go, for at least 10 minutes, until everything is uniformly combined and the pork becomes smooth and tacky.

4. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (400-450°F/205-235°C).

5. Measure out one to two tablespoons (15-30g) of the pork mixture and form it into a tight ball. Then squeeze the ball into a sausage shape about 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10cm) long, and push a skewer through the centre of the meat. Repeat this process with the remaining pork mixture.

6. Use the remaining one tablespoon (15ml) of oil to brush each of the sausages. Grill them for three to four minutes on each side, until they are brown and cooked through.

7. Serve the skewers with accompaniments such as vermicelli noodles, lettuce leaves, herbs, spring onions, rice paper and Vietnamese spicy dipping sauce.

Sweet, Savory, Spicy by Sarah Tiong is published by Page Street Publishing Co. 2020.


Be the first to comment on this article
Interactive Topics, send us your comments/opinion on this article.

Please note that The Portugal News may use selected comments in the printed edition of the newspaper.