Where there is Marina Mustafa, there is excellent food and that is most probably why she turns into a human magnet come Hari Raya.
Of course, her graceful Southern hospitality and winning smile add to the charm, but there is no denying that the delicious rendang, soto and other Raya goodies she prepares draw the willing crowd.
Marina inadvertently became the glue that binds the family together during this festive season and for over 23 years, her cosy and rustic abode in Kelana Jaya, Selangor has been the centre of the month-long celebration for her circle of folk.
Family and friends visit in hopes of catching up with one another over a great spread and Marina never fails to meet their expectations.
“Hari Raya is really the most exciting time of the year for me. I always wait for it with great anticipation and when it is finally here, I am like a kid in a candy store,” says Marina with a big grin.
Her earliest Raya memories centre on her kampung days in Muar, Johor, as a kid playing with her cousins while her parents and relatives prepare a feast.
“My mother and my aunts would be busy chopping ingredients, the men would prepare the ketupat and we children were carefree. They didn’t want us interfering with the cooking.”
But as she grew older, Marina played a more important role in the kitchen and that is how she collected the recipes for some of her family’s favourite Raya dishes.
The recipes are published in the MPH Masterclass Kitchens’ Hari Raya Classics, and the author is genuinely excited to share them.
“I don’t want the book to just represent my generation and the type of Raya goodies I had growing up. I also want the book to help my children and the younger generation to connect with the older generation, and use it as a way to remember their roots,” says the author.
One of her favourite dish to cook is the Rendang Hitam Pahang. Marina, who lived for a brief period in Pahang, says that their version of rendang has more vibrant taste compared to that from other states.
“Can you believe that one dish can taste so different based on where they are made? The rendang from Negri Sembilan is thick with santan, and Rendang Tok from Perak is dry, but the rendang from Pahang just bursts with strong flavours.
“The Rendang Hitam Pahang doesn’t use much santan or kerisik. We cheat a little nowadays by using soy sauce to darken the rendang, although in the olden days, they really cooked it long enough to turn the rendang black naturally.”
One of Marina’s tricks to cook in large portions is to prepare ingredients in advance.
A month before Raya, she would start purchasing and storing the necessary items, and prepare pastes for the dishes.
“I always prepare in advance and store the pastes in the freezer. Take them out only when you need to cook,” she says.
Marina is using a Johorean soto recipe, which she specially cooks during Raya and other special occassions.
This year, Marina is making Soto Ayam as the main Raya dish in her household. Picking one feature dish is also Marina’s way to save time and reduce inefficiency.
“Pick one main dish. Buy all the ingredients that you need to make that dish. It makes cooking and replenishing your stocks so much easier during Raya.”
“There is always rich and decadent food during Raya, and I think that soto provides the necessary break from the intense flavours and textures,” she says.
Marina serves the soto with nasi impit and bergedil (potato and meat patties), which she makes herself.
Other Raya goodies that Marina never fails to serve are sambal goreng Johor and cookies like date-filled Makmur, sugee Arab, kuih bangkit and Semperit.
“A lot of food will be served during Raya, which is why I cannot emphasise enough on why it is important to do the preparation earlier.”
She adds: “There is nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen longer than necessary when all your family and friends want your company. You won’t want to miss out on all that good times. So be prepared.”
For soto soup
2 litres water
1 whole chicken
2.5cm galangal, bruised
4 stalks lemongrass, bruised
2 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
8 cardamom pods
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tsp ground turmeric
3 tsp salt
250ml coconut milk (santan cair)
Spice paste (blended)
2 large onions, quartered
3 garlic cloves
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp fennel seeds
5 large potatoes, cut and deep fried
1 cup minced beef
2 tsp ground white pepper
2 egg yolks
1 tsp salt
3 garlic cloves, sliced finely
15 shallots, sliced finely
1 stalk Chinese celery, sliced thinly
1 stalk spring onions, sliced thinly
2 eggs whites, beaten
500ml oil for deep frying
240g starchy rice
2 litres water
3 pandan leaves
1 tsp salt
100g suhun (glass noodles), deep fried
100g bean sprouts
100g Chinese celery, sliced finely
100g spring onions, sliced finely
50g crispy fried shallots
To make soto soup
Boil water in a huge pot.
Add the other ingredients for soto soup, as well as the spice paste, into the pot of boiling water.
When the chicken is cooked thoroughly, remove it from the boiling soup and place it on a baking tray. Turn off the flame for the soup.
To make shredded chicken
Preheat oven to 190°C. Roast the chicken (from the soup) for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. Remove the bird from the oven and allow it to cool. Shred the chicken into strips.
To make bergedil
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients except egg whites and oil. Mash them until combined. Shape the mixture into patties about 4cm in diameter, dip them into the egg white and deep fry until golden brown. Lift from the oil and drain.
To make nasi impit
Wash and drain the rice. Boil the water, pandan leaves, rice and salt in a non-stick pot, on medium heat. Keep the pot covered.
When the water begins to dry, keep stirring and breaking the rice until it forms a paste-like texture.
Remove the pandan leaves from the rice and scoop the rice into a 1.5cm deep baking tray, lined with banana leaf.
Press the rice firmly using another piece of banana leaf.
The rice must still be very hot when pressed down. When the rice is very dense and has a smooth surface, leave it to cool. Once cooled, cut into cubes.
Serve the soto soup with the accompaniments, shredded chicken, bergedil and nasi impit.
RENDANG HITAM PAHANG
250ml coconut oil
2 large onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1kg beef, cut into pieces
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
150ml tamarind juice
500ml coconut milk (santan cair)
1 turmeric leaf
2 kaffir lime leaves
3 stalks lemongrass, bruised
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
Spice paste (blended)
20 small red onions
40 dried chillies, soaked and drained
2.5cm turmeric root
To make the rendang
Heat the coconut oil in a pan. Saute the sliced onions and garlic.
Add in the spice paste and saute until fragrant. Put in the beef and mix well.
Add the soy sauce and tamarind juice. Put in the coconut milk and continue cooking on low flame, for about an hour or until the beef is tender.
Add the turmeric leaf, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass.
Add the sugar and season with salt. Serve once the gravy has thickened and the beef is tender.
270g plain flour, sifted
125ml melted ghee
1 egg, beaten
150g pitted dates, mashed
3 tbsp sesame seeds, roasted
Preheat oven to 180°C. Put the flour into a large bowl.
Pour in the melted ghee and egg, and mix them into the flour to form a dough.
Roll the mashed dates into tiny balls (10g). Coat the date balls with the sesame seeds.
Take a small ball of dough and flatten it. Place the date ball on the flattened dough.
Cover the date with the dough and shape into ovals.
If desired, use a pastry clip to make leaf designs for each cookie. Repeat until dough is used up.
Place the cookies on a greased cookie tray about 3cm apart.
Bake for 20 minutes in the oven.
When done, remove the cookies from the oven and sprinkle icing sugar on them.