RECIPE: Easy otak-otak (15 minutes hands-on time)

I have a thing for Nyonya food; I think I like the unique flavour combo of the many spices such as turmeric and daun kaduk (wild betel). Perhaps because Nyonya cuisine is influenced by the Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai and British, it tend to have a complex and interesting flavour. And did I tell you I’m crazy about sambal belacan – a must have on the Nyonya table?otak otak 10
Otak-otak is one of my absolute favourite Nyonya food. However, I have never thought of making it. Perhaps, I always have the impression that it’s a complex dish which takes too much time to make. All changed when I found a recipe in Food For the Brain. It uses canned fish and UHT coconut milk, and suggested steaming in a bowl instead of wrapping it in a banana leaf. ‘Doable!’, I thought to myself.
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This recipe is taken from Food For The Brain, written by Takuji Shirasawa, President of Shirasawa Anti-Aging Medical Institute; Daniela Shiga, researcher with Juntendo University of Graduate School of Medicine and Pelita Lim, a food writer and stylist.

The book shows that daily intake of Medium Chain Triglycerides and Omega 3 that have been proven to help reduce the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Recipes included in this book contains mainly fatty fish and coconut milk.

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This recipe is so easy to make. You only need to blend the spices (lemongrass, shallots, garlic, turmeric, chili) with canned sardine, coconut milk and eggs. Pour the mixture into bowls, flavour with daun kaduk, and steam it. That’s it!

Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings


Sardine in extra virgin olive oil and chili x 120g
Lemongrass x 3 stalks
Shallots x 80 g
Garlic x 4 cloves
Fresh turmeric x 1 (3 cm)
Red chili x 3
Eggs x 3
Coconut milk x 150 ml
Kaduk/ turmeric leaf x 4 pieces, sliced finely
Salt to taste (Suggestion: 1 tsp)

Small bowls
Steam rack
Chopping board and knife

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  1. Gather ingredients and materials.
  2. Break eggs. Break eggs into a bowl.
  3. Chop lemongrass. Chop the bottom 3 inches lemongrass into small pieces so that it’s easy to blend.
  4. Peel shallots, garlic and turmeric. 
  5. Deseed chili. Chop of stem, slit lengthwise and remove seeds.
  6. Slice kaduk leaves. Place kaduk leaves on top of each other, roll and slice finely.
  7. Blend. Add 1 piece of sardine and everything else except kaduk leaf. Blend until fine.
  8. Pour into mould. Pour mixture into mould. Top with remaining sardines and turmeric leaf.

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  1. Bring water in wok to a boil.  Fit wok with steam rack and fill with water. Place tray with bowls of otak-otak mixutre over it. Bring to a boil.
  2. Steam. Once boiling, cover lid. Steam until cooked or mixture is set (15 minutes)
  3. Serve. Serve hot with rice.

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