Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mom's Nyonya Kuah Lada (Fish & Brinjal In Turmeric & Peppercorn Gravy)

Kuah Lada ('Kuah': soup/gravy; 'Lada': pepper) is a specialty Melaka Nyonya dish consisting of fish and brinjal (aubergine/eggplant) cooked in turmeric and peppercorn gravy, with a hint of tartness from tamarind paste juice. Mackerel (ikan tenggiri) or stingray (ikan pari) are the two preferred types of fish often used to cook kuah lada, although other suitable fish may be used too, like hardtail mackerel (ikan cencaru) and pomfret (ikan bawal).

This is one of my many favorite homey Nyonya dishes often prepared by my Mom, who was a terrific cook of Nyonya food and cakes. This dish goes so great with a plate of plain rice. Depending on the palate of individual Nyonya household, the degree of tartness can be adjusted by using more or lesser tamarind paste juice. I love mine with more tamarind paste juice as the sour & peppery turmeric taste never fails to whet my appetite. It is also one of the 'specialty & less commercial' dishes that one can hardly find in a Nyonya restaurant, so if you love authentic Melaka Nyonya food, this is worth a try at home.


4 fish fillets/slices
2 brinjals, cut into 1.5 inches blocks and quarter them
1 tbsp tamarind paste rubbed in 2 cups water (use your fingers to rub and squeeze the tamarind paste thoroughly in the water, then discard the seeds)
1/4 cup oil

Pound/blend together:
40 gms garlic
80 gms shallots
1 inch long fresh turmeric (or half tbsp turmeric powder)
1 fresh red chilli (this is optional)
1 inch block Asian shrimp paste (belacan)
1/2 tbsp white peppercorns
3 candlenuts (buah keras)
salt to taste


Heat oil in a wok or pan, saute all the blended paste for about 10-13 minutes until fragrant. Transfer the sauteed paste into a small pot, add the 2 cups of tamarind juice, and let it boil on medium heat. Add in the brinjals, let it boil and cook until soft for maybe another 10 minutes, and then add in the fish slices and let it simmer for 5 minutes till they are cooked. Serve with rice.