Recipe: Tamarind Pork (Babi asam) – The Cookbook Challenge Week 20 ‘Tangy’ theme

by April@MyFoodTrail on April 6, 2010

in Asian, Cookbook Challenge 2010, Cooking, Mains, Pork, Recipes

Theme: Tangy
Cookbook: The New Mrs Lee’s Cookbook: Nonya Cuisine by Mrs Lee Chin Koon

A few years ago, I got hubby cooking classes with Tony Tan for his birthday. My boss thought it was hilarious that I was buying hubby a present that was actually benefitting me, but he failed to understand that hubby wanted to go, I wasn’t forcing him to!

Tony Tan classes are based in his home in Toorak but most of the classes are more instructional rather than hands on, though you do get to taste the food and ask questions, as well as take home a recipe. One of the classes was based around a Nonya (also spelt Nyonya) theme and one of the recipes was tamarind pork. Hubby has since made the dish at home.

When I purchased the New Mrs Lee’s cookbook, I saw there was also a recipe for tamarind pork and was interested to see how similar it was to Tony Tan’s. I thought it would also make a good recipe for tangy week since tamarind is tangy/sour. After making it, I think Tony Tan must have gotten his inspiration from Mrs Lee’s recipe because both recipes are very similar!

The author of the cookbook, Mrs Lee Chin Koon, was the grandmother of the ex Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. She first published Mrs Lee’s Cookbook in 1979 at the age of 70 and her granddaughter, Shermay Lee, has relaunched the cookbook for a new generation to make it possible for any novice to cook classic Peranakan dishes.

I personally didn’t find this tamarind pork recipe very novice-friendly! It didn’t give instruction on how long to cook the onion mixture for, nor for how long to cook the pork for. I have added some of these instructions in the recipe below. I made a double serving of the recipe below for a family pot luck dinner and didn’t realise how long it would take to cook so allow yourself some time. Also, the longer you cook the pork, the softer it will be.

Tamarind Pork (Babi asam)

Tamarind Pork - Finished 2

600g pork belly, rind removed & excess fat trimmed
4 candlenuts (buah keras)
2 medium brown onions, chopped
1 tbsp prawn (shrimp) paste (belachan)
1 ½ tbsp salted soy beans (taucheo)
1 rounded tbsp tamarind (asam) pulp
570ml water, hot but not boiling
5 tbsp oil
1 tbsp sugar

Place the tamarind pulp in a medium bowl and add the water. You can either use your hands or a large spoon to mash up the tamarind pulp as much as possible. Set aside.

Tamarind Pork - Method 1

Tamarind pulp; Tamarind after being soaked in water

2. Blend together chopped onions, candlenuts and shrimp paste in a food processor until smooth.

Tamarind Pork - Method 2

Ingredients before blending; After blending

3. Heat a heavy based wide pan or wok and add the oil. Stir fry onion mixture until it darkens and the oil starts to separate from the mixture. This can take up to 30 minutes.

Tamarind Pork - Method 3

Onion mixture in the pan straight from blender; Mixture after reducing

4. Blend the salted soy beans until fine and add to the onion mixture. Add the meat and stir fry until pork has changed colour.

Tamarind Pork - Method 4

Pork being mixed through mixture; Adding tamarind water

5. Strain the tamarind juice into the pork and bring to the boil.

Tamarind Pork - Method 5

After adding tamarind water; Reducing liquid

6. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until the liquid has reduced by half (at least an hour). The longer you leave the pork, the more tender it will become. Mid-way through I scooped off the excess oil.

Tamarind Pork - Finished 1

Results: The tamarind pork had a sourish tangy taste and was tender because I cooked it for about 2 hours. It was on the salty side even though there was no added salt apart from the salted soy beans. It definitely needs to be served with rice. My brother in law said it wasn’t as sour as he was expecting from a tamarind/asam dish, which was a good thing. It’s not the prettiest looking dish, but it has a lot of flavour.

Would I make it again? Yes, I quite like the tangy flavour.

Over & Out, April xx

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Tresna April 6, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Really liked your step-by-step photos for this dish! I love tamarind and especially like seeing it in savoury styled dishes. I'm a big fan of the Asam Pedas food available in some parts of Malaysia. Sour *and* spicy – lovely!


penny aka jeroxie April 6, 2010 at 9:55 pm

Awesome to bring back the Asian flavours. Reminds me that I need to make assam fish soon


vickys April 6, 2010 at 11:09 pm

MMM, nothing to lighten up a heafty pork stew than some tang! I love dishes that have a peranakan flair to it! 🙂


Agnes April 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Hehee, I hate photographing brown food! It sounds very tasty though, I love eating these sorts of dishes with very hot rice. Yum!


Conor @ HoldtheBeef April 7, 2010 at 9:06 pm

I'm loving the variety of takes on 'tangy', and it looks like you've done a great job with this despite the ambiguity of the recipe. I hate ambiguous recipes. Sure, I may not follow recipes properly anyway, but it is nice to know exactly what you're meant to be doing!


Vee - A Melbourne Munchkin. April 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

I always thought Tamarind Pork was a dish from the Phillipines, how strange! Also, I've been to Malacca in Malaysia heaps where nonya is king and never had it. It does sound interesting – when you say tangy – is it kinda like sweet and sour pork minus the batter??


Adrian @ Food Rehab April 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm

Tamarind is my favourite, esp in soup. Actually, tamarind in anything really! Alot of dishes that don't look pretty taste sublime- filipino cuisine can attest to this fact.


Anita April 8, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I think that's a great present – for girls and guys alike. I'd love for my Dad and brother to go to a cool cooking class


Jo - SecondHelping April 12, 2010 at 5:16 pm

What an amazing cookbook it must be. Where did you find it and what are the other recipes like?

I am such a sucker for tamarind too.


Von April 13, 2010 at 9:54 pm

lololol…there's a boy at my school called Tony Tan and now I'm imagining him as a cooking teacher….=]

Tamarind is a really interesting ingredient, I've only ever cooked with it in pad thai but this sounds really good!


April @ My Food Trail April 15, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Hi Tresna: Thanks! I am testing out smaller step by step photos!

Hi Penny: I'm not a big fan of asam dishes because sometimes they can be quite sour, but this asam pork wasn't!

Hi Vickys: I never cook peranakan dishes but hope to make more dishes from the cookbook!

Hi Agnes: I know – brown foods are so terrible to photograph but are often the tastiest!

Hi Conor: Recipes are good for guidance though and this didn't really give cooking times!

Hi Vee: Maybe there is a similar dish in the Phillipines. I wouldn't say it is like sweet & sour pork without the batter. It has a completely different taste and very hard to describe! It is quite salty too.

Hi Adrian: I don't think I have had tamarind soup. Yeah, most brown food looks terrible but tastes great!

Hi Anita: Cooking classes are a great present for people who are into food.

Hi Jo: I got it from Book Depository. This was the first and only recipe I have tried from the cookbook, but the other recipes looks good too. It is very authentic with everything made from scratch.

Hi Von: I think this Tony Tan would probably be older than you are! 🙂 Tamarind is used a lot in Asian cooking.


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