Thursday, July 23, 2009

I Can Be A Mamak!

I wonder about the origin of Murtabak, just as I began to write this post. Hubby's theory was that this food item was a fusion of Indian and Malay cuisines, as the dough that is used is the dough used to make Roti Canai, which is an innovation and modification made to the Indian paratha or normal roti by the Indians who migrated to Malaysia. As for me, I have no opinions whatsoever about the origin of this food item, that is until I began to do a word play on it, in my mind. Let's just say that taking Taleem Quran with Al Huda has predisposed one to get to dissect words to get to the root words. Call it an obsession if you will. Raw Ta Ba. I know urattibu means to tidy up, or arrange, so it could be something to do with the way the Murtabak is folded. A little googling found me the answer. Voila!

I always feared attempting making Roti Canai, because the stretching process is, I have to say, intimidating. You know how the experts throw the pizza discs high up in the air? Well, the Roti Canai experts do the same thing with thinned Roti Canai dough, so much so that they end up with very thin translucent sheets of dough that is later twirled, flattened, slapped, fried and again slapped to produce crispy yet pliable not to mention flaky rotis that are Roti Canai, one of Malaysia's popular breakfast item. I love eating Roti Canai with sugar and of course the usual dhall curry accompaniment, topped with a dollop of spicy Sambal. Ahh..those were the days...when I didn't have to scour through online recipes just so I can eat one.

Well, finally, I gathered enough courage to actually attempt making Roti Canai while hubby was away in Washington D.C. I wanted to use my mother's recipe, but there was one detail missing and I didn't have time to wait for her to reply (because of the time difference) so I used a recipe from Dari Dapur Maisya. I had been googling for a Roti Canai recipe, and to be honest, after my experience of following Malaysian recipes in the past, I don't place too much trust in them. So I spent quite some time carefully reading the recipes. However, I love Maisya's tips section, and decided that I should trust her. I'm glad I did. The dough was very forgiving and wonderfully fun to work with!

No, I didn't have to throw the thinned dough in midair while twirling it, because thanks to my mother, I have a set of organized and well explained instructions to follow with regards to working with the roti canai dough. And I am darn serious about her instructions being organized and particularly well explained. Being meticulous is a huge plus in recipe writing, and my mother is pretty meticulous, alhamdulillah.

My Roti Canai attempt eventually gave birth to Roti Telur and Murtabak. Suffice it to say, I was overjoyed with the end results! It did take me hours to make it, but like being in labor with a forthcoming baby, (I know I keep coming up with the same analogy, but being a mother of multiples does that to you, you know) the end result is so beautifully worth it, that I didn't quite mind wiping up the trail of oil drips from the dining table (my work place) to the stove, not to mention spewing out some elbow 'grease' (no pun intended). However, it was not a sole effort, as I had to harness my kids' energy. My 9 year old son Hza was my Murtabak frier and flipper. He took turns with my eldest daughter Skee.

Murtabak Filling

1 lbs ground beef
1 medium-large onion/5 - 7 shallots, chopped
4 -5 garlic cloves, minced
3 - 5 Tbs curry powder (add enough water to make a wet paste)
2 -3 Tbs chilli paste
1 tsp sesame oil
2 - 3 whole cloves
2 -3 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 -3 sprigs of parsley, chopped
salt to taste
3 - 5 Tbs oil
2 eggs lightly beaten

1. Heat oil and saute onion and garlic till fragrant.
2. Add chilli paste, wet curry powder paste, whole cloves, star anise, cinnamon stick, and continue sauteing until oil breaks the surface (about 5- 7 minutes) over medium fire
3. Add ground beef and cook till ground beef are cooked through. Add salt to taste
4. Drizzle with sesame oil just before you turn off the stove and stir.
5. Toss in chopped parsley and stir.
6. Cool completely. Fish out the whole spices unless you don't mind biting into them later on.
7. Add the beaten eggs to the cooled ground beef filling and stir thoroughly

  • You can pretty much add anything else you want such as soy sauce. The only reason I didn't was because I wanted to use this filling for Zeyoudee's calzone too, and soy sauce has wheat.
  • The basic flavoring is the spiciness from the curry powder and chilli paste and some sweetness from soy sauce (but we did fine with sesame oil. Not sweet, but it gives it that Asian fragrance).

Roti Canai Dough, courtesy of Maisya and Mr. Niceghost

3 C all purpose flour
1 - 1 1/2 C water (look at Notes)
1 Tbs margarine
2 Tbs sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbs cooking oil

1. Combine water, sweetened condensed milk, and salt and stir to mix
2. Dump all the flour in a big bowl (if mixing by hand) and in your mixer bowl if using a stand up mixer
3. If mixing by hand, gradually add the water mixture to the flour. If using stand mixer, add all the water mixture to the flour
4. Add in the margarine and cooking oil, and knead till you get a smooth and elastic dough. One way of knowing if it's elastic enough is to make a 1-2 inch indentation in the dough. If it springs back, it's ready.
5. Cover dough with a damp cloth and let rest for 30 minutes
6. Pinch of small pieces of the dough (75 - 90 gm each) and make into small balls. You should get 10 small dough balls from this recipe.
7. Coat each ball with margarine, or alternately, you can submerge all these balls in cooking oil in a wide bottomed bowl for 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.


...all courtesy of Maisya from Dari Dapur Maisya. I was overjoyed to find these tips!

  • If you want the Roti Canai dough to be deliciously pliable after cooking, use cooking oil in the dough
  • If you want it crispy, use sugar or sweetened condensed milk in the dough
  • If you want the dough to remain soft and pliable throughout the day, use cold or ice water

To shape into Murtabak:

...all courtesy of my mother from Cherry on a Cake. I was overjoyed to find these instructions!

1. Clean and liberally oil your work area (make sure it's a big one, you will need the space, trust me). It can be your dining table, or even the back of a huge flat serving platter.
2. Oil your hands generously to avoid as much friction between the dough and your hands. Take one ball and evenly smooth it out to a flat circular disc, much like a pizza dough.

Do this by pressing it gently with your palms and fingers. The more oily your hands are, the easier.
3. Continue doing this until the disc is about 1/4 inch thick, and then begin to lift the edge and gently stretch it. Don't worry if you happen to tear it. Only worry if you tear it right smack in the middle. If you do, please start again. Or, you can do some innovative repairs by placing the Murtabak filling somewhere else. You'll figure it out. But either way, stretch it till it's paper thin or like in the photo below.

4. Take about 2 -3 tablespoons of the ground beef filling and place it in the center of the stretched dough.
5. Start wrapping it up as shown in the following photos, much like wrapping a parcel from four sides and tucking the last end under. Like I said, if you have tears where the filling is, try to wrap around it.
As you can clearly see, one of my wrapped Murtabak was 'holey', but it wasn't disastrous. So, if it happens, don't fret.

Frying the murtabak:

3 - 4 Tbs oil

1. Heat oil in wide flat pan. A long rectangular griddle would be perfect!
2. Gently place one wrapped murtabak in pan, or two or more if the pan is wide enough. Just don't overcrowd so as to make flipping a challenge.
3. Very gently, press the top of the murtabak flat with your spatula so as to disperse the filling evenly. The beaten egg inside needs to be cooked through.
4. Flip it when the underside is browned. Give it enough cooking time for the egg to be cooked through, about 3-5 minutes each side. Adjust the fire so it won't brown too quickly.

Serve with Chilli sauce, or eat as is.

Malaysians usually serve Murtabak with either one of two accompanying sauces, depending on where you are exactly in Malaysia; sweet pickled onion sporting a pinkish reddish hue, or spicy curry gravy.