This post was originally published on December 4, 2015 and updated on May 17, 2021.
Take a break from your plain, grilled chicken breast and broiled fish. There’s a whole world of flavorful ingredients that can help make your everyday meals more exotic and flavorful. And the good news is: You don’t have to be a world-class chef or own fancy equipment to add some zing to your meals. Just, scout out these Malaysian ingredients at your local ethnic or specialty food store to take your taste buds on a flavorful vacation.
Bird’s eye chilies: If you like dishes with a little heat, you will love these tiny peppers. At one time they were considered the hottest peppers in the world. Today we know a few others, such as habanero and ghost pepper, are higher on the Scoville scale. Use this petite pepper to add a zesty punch to your next stir fry. This recipe, from the Back to Basics Malaysian cuisine cookbook, combines the bird’s eye chili with garlic, shallots and okra for a quick and spicy side dish.
Tamarind: This exotic legume grows on trees throughout Southeast Asia. Most often found as a paste, it adds a unique sweet-and-sour flavor to foods. Combine it with chicken, red curry paste and coconut milk in this Malaysian-inspired chicken curry. Fun fact: Malaysian chefs use thinly sliced fresh tamarind skin as a souring agent in dishes.
Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil: You can’t cook Malaysian food without palm oil. It’s a staple of the Malaysian diet. The vibrant red oil adds a rich golden color to foods, and packs a nutritional punch not seen with commonly used American oils. Malaysian palm oil is nature’s richest source of vitamin E tocotrienols, and has 15 times more carotenoids than carrots. Try it in this crispy Brussels sprouts and pancetta recipe.
Banana leaf: Instead of wrapping fish or chicken in parchment paper or aluminum foil, consider using banana leaves. They seal in moisture and impart a subtle, sweet and nutty flavor to your dish. Simply wrap the large leaves around your filet, tie with string and cook as usual. Be sure to serve the packets still sealed. When you cut the string at the table, you’ll be rewarded with a steaming dinner with an exotic aroma.
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