Is it your first time cooking Hari Raya dishes for your family? Planning an open house? Busy mums Zhulaiha Abdul Rahim and Jayina Chan share their tips for preparing a healthy and delicious feast for your loved ones without having to slave away in the kitchen all day.
1. PREP EARLY
Many Hari Raya dishes taste better the day after cooking - like rendang, after it's had more time to absorb the flavour from spices like ginger and galangal - so you'll want to cook these the night before Hari Raya or an open house. However, don't wait until then to do all your prep or you'll be too tired for the actual celebration.
Most dishes require the basic trio of garlic, ginger and shallots, so blend a large batch of them in advance and keep them in an airtight container in the fridge, suggests Zhulaiha, businesswoman and founder of Ovenhaven, a popular Instagram page featuring baking and cooking recipes.
The mother of two also suggests that for two-step recipes like ayam masak merah, cooks should fry the chicken in the morning before the actual cooking later in the day.
2. DON'T KNOCK INSTANT PASTES
Everyone wishes they could say, "I made this from scratch" for everything they put on the table, but unless you're a kitchen god with eight limbs, that's not happening - especially when you get last-minute guests.
Stow away some ready-made pastes in the freezer so you can skip the tedious rempah-making and just throw your meat and vegetables into the wok.
Instant foods have a bad rep because many are chock full of sodium and artificial flavouring, but there are excellent exceptions. Zhulaiha recommends Asyura, whose products are preservative-free and have that "authentic home-cooked flavour". Asyura's pastes are available online for S$4.30 each and include festive dishes like ayam masak merah, lodeh and rendang.
You can also buy instant pastes at halal marts like Global Halal Hub, SuzyAmeer Halal Frozen and Toko Warisan Halal Frozen. "They have frozen, ready-cooked ingredients, as well as marinated ones," she said. "I usually purchase boiled beef lung (for sambal goreng) and marinated beef lung for frying. They sell frozen marinated meat and satay as well."
3. MAKE SMALL ADJUSTMENTS FOR YOUR HEALTH
Hari Raya may be related to feasting, but it is also an exercise in moderation. If you worry that your loved ones may be consuming too much rich food while you are out visiting, you can at least make some adjustments at home - small, manageable ones.
"A little goes a long way. People tend to think that preparing healthy Hari Raya dishes has to be drastic and alter the flavour tremendously. However, simple steps can be taken to lower the calorie content in your feast," said Zhulaiha.
"Rendang is a must-have on every Hari Raya table," she said. "The flavourful gravy comes from hours of simmering the meat in rich spices including kerisik (toasted coconut paste) and coconut cream."
For a healthier take, Zhulaiha uses skinless, boneless chicken instead of chicken-on pieces.
"Chicken breast is healthiest, but has a tendency to dry out, so I cook with chicken thigh. Also, in place of coconut cream, I use low-fat milk and a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil to replicate the flavour," she said.
When making ayam masak merah, grill the chicken in the oven instead of deep-frying it. "That locks the juices in and doesn't use that much oil, so win-win," said Zhulaiha.
4. DO YOUR OWN THING
If you're hosting, you can basically do whatever you want. Don't worry about not dishing out enough traditional foods - your guests are likely to get rendang fatigue anyway, so you'll be doing them a favour.
Jayina is new to Malay cooking and as the health-conscious founder of baby food startup Anya Meals, isn't partial to whipping it up on the regular. "I usually only eat, not cook for Hari Raya," she quipped. Still, she recommends that cooks add vegetable varieties to their Hari Raya menu - even if these have never before been seen on Eid.
So if you want to whip up a chap chye to balance out the meal with some greens, go ahead. And if you want to serve red rice instead of white rice, don't hold back - even Rumah Makan Minang does it.
This year, Jayina will be making karniyarik, a Turkish stuffed eggplant with beef. Roast the split eggplant in the oven, grill it cut-side down and scoop out the the seeds. Fill the cavity with beef sauteed with chopped tomatoes and tomato paste, coriander seed powder and cumin.