In this time of Coronavirus, it feels almost extravagant to be making rempah udang or nasi briyani that involves a long shopping list or things that people may not be able to procure from the supermarket or wet market. I wanted to share an approachable, easy dish that you can easily whip up at home, using basic pantry staples.
I first had kacang pool when I was working at Candlenut as a cook. Staff meals were a huge part of Candlenut’s culture, and they might not necessarily be prepared by the chefs. We’ve had Aunty Letchimi, our kitchen helper who assists with jobs like picking herbs and chopping things, cook homely dishes such as green mango curry or krill fried rice for us. Sometimes, even the service staff jump on board – we’ve had one Indian server who told us that he makes the best biryani and we got him to cook it for everyone one day. Unlike at a typical restaurant where the family meal happens once before dinner service begins, there are two staff meals to be had at Candlenut daily – the first being brunch (before lunch service) and the other being dinner (before dinner service).
One breakfast, Firah served up Kacang Pool. A brown bean stew topped with a sunny-fried egg, a smattering of diced onions and calamansi – it looked utterly unassuming but tasted complex and delicious. I was later surprised to learn that it had no meat in it and was vegetarian. Years later, when I moved to Melbourne and had Ful Medames at a Middle-eastern eatery, I was struck by the similarities and asked Firah about how to prepare the dish.
Firah’s instructions were surprisingly simple and when she took a photo of the canned beans that she typically uses to prepare the dish, the label had the words “FOUL MEDAMES” in big block font. One thing that Firah stresses is to use ghee, and I agree that it makes a huge difference – ghee rounds out the flavour of the beans and the spices and adds a luxurious mouthfeel.
Firah’s Kacang Pool
2 red onions, peeled and chopped roughly
3 garlic cloves, peeled
For the stew:
2 x 420g cans of beans (broad beans are traditional, but you can use almost any bean you like with success – I used a 4-bean mix in the video tutorial)
65g ghee (or shallot oil) plus some extra for frying the toppings
2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
3 teaspoons cumin powder
3 teaspoons coriander powder
3 teaspoons fennel powder
1 can of water
1-2 teaspoons of salt
To garnish (quantities according to your liking):
Sliced green chillies
Lime, preferably calamansi
Cumin powder (optional – hawker centers tend to sprinkle extra cumin on top of the plated kacang pool, but you can choose to leave it out)
Begin by blending the onions and garlic to form a rempah and set aside. Drain the beans in a sieve, reserving the bean liquid for the cans. Fill one can with water and set that aside as well. Transfer the beans to a blender or food processor and pulse to your desired chunkiness – Firah tells me that she like the beans to be chunky for texture. If you’re having difficulty blending, you can add some water from the can.
In a large saucepan or pot, heat the ghee. Once melted, add the rempah and spices. Fry until fragrant over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved bean liquid and can of water. Cook until the stew has thickened to your desired consistency – a thicker stew would be richer. Bear in mind that the stew will thicken as it sits. Season to taste with salt.
Prepare the toppings by frying eggs and toasting slices of baguette in oil. Transfer the kacang pool into serving bowls or dishes, top with the egg, baguette, chillies and lime. Sprinkle with extra cumin powder if desired.