Tau Cheow Bak with Tomatillos is a twist on the Nyonya dish known as Babi Asam Belimbing which is tangy and very appetizing. A must-try!
Some of the more exotic tropical ingredients from the old country are just impossible to find here in the United States. Even in Malaysia these ingredients are becoming increasingly rare because they were never commercially grown but simply harvested from the wild. Increased urbanization has further exacerbated the situation.
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).
Babi Asam Belimbing
When I saw tomatillos recently, I was reminded of this childhood dish known as Babi Asam Belimbing or braised pork belly with salted soy beans. The pork belly 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.
Tau Cheow Bak with Tomatillos
This dish is a spin on the aforementioned Babi Asam Belimbing. I started with browning the pork belly slices before cooking the rest of the ingredients. When I returned the fried pork belly to the pan, I merely cooked it for a short time instead of braising it. You can definitely choose to braise it for 20 minutes if you prefer.
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.
There is a variation to this dish using ikan bilis or dried anchovies in place of pork belly. This version is usually eaten with plain congee. Just thinking of it makes my mouth water.
Similar Products Used in Making This Tau Cheow Bak with Tomatillos
This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy here.
Tau Cheow Bak with Tomatillos (Fried Pork with Salted Soy Beans and Tomatillos)
- Combine salted soy beans and sugar in a small bowl. Mashed salted soy beans into paste with the back of a spoon.
- Combine ground pepper with sliced pork. Mix well.
- 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 mashed salted soy bean paste and sugar mixture. Stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Add tomatillos and sliced red 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.
NOTE: This post was originally published on October 8th, 2012 but has been updated with more information. Recipe remained unchanged.