Some of the more exotic tropical ingredients from the old country are just impossible to find here in Minnesota. Even in Malaysia these ingredients are becoming rare because they were never commercially grown but simply harvested from the wild. Increased urbanization has definitely taken a toll.
Over the years many ingredients have slipped my mind but every now and then I get reminded of a dish that I had eaten in the past while grocery shopping. One such ingredient is tomatillo, easily available at the grocery stores here. This tart fruit reminds me of asam belimbing, a close relative of the star fruit. Asam belimbing is very tart and the Nyonyas or Peranakans used them in curries as well as stir fries, usually flavored with tau cheow (salted or fermented soy beans).
When I saw tomatillos recently, I was reminded of another childhood dish known as tau cheow bak or stir fry pork with salted soy beans. The streaky pork and salted soy beans help neutralize the acidity of the asam belimbing. A possible substitute for asam belimbing is star fruit but since that is also not easily available here, tomatillos are the next best thing. Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.
Tomatillos are a staple in Mexican cuisine. It is a key ingredient in fresh and cooked green sauces. This fruit comes in several colors but the most common is the one with a bright green color. It is surrounded by an inedible paper-like husk that splits open and turns brown by harvest time. The fruit is smooth and firm. When cut open, it resembles a tomato. The taste can be quite tart and therefore it is suited for salsa, jams, and preserves.
I was really pleased with the outcome of the dish. Firm, green tomatillos are a good substitute for asam belimbing. Plenty of steamed white rice is highly recommended with this mouth-watering dish.
Note: A variation to this dish is the use of ikan bilis or dried anchovies in place of streaky pork. This version is delicious as an accompaniment to plain congee.
- 1 lb (450g) streaky pork/belly pork, skin removed and thinly sliced
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 2 tbsp tau cheow (salted soy beans)
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 5 medium sized (½ lb/225g) tomatillos, cut into 6 wedges each
- 1 red jalapeno chili, thinly sliced
Combine pepper with sliced pork. Mix well. Combine salted soy beans and sugar in a small bowl. Mashed salted soy beans into paste with the back of a spoon.
Brown sliced pork in a well heated pan without oil for 8 to 10 minutes. Remove, drain, and set aside.
Discard lard except for 1 tablespoon from the pan. Add minced garlic followed by salted soy bean paste. Stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant.
Add tomatillos and sliced chili. Stir to get it coated with soy bean paste. Pour in ½ cup (120ml) water and allow tomatillos to cook for 3 minutes.
Return pork to the pan. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
Remove and serve immediately with steamed rice.
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!