Come Into My Kitchen

Family starts Chinese New Year off right with Malaysian Curry Puffs

Julie-Ann Dutton and her family look forward to celebrating Chinese New Year with Curry Puffs made by her mother, Emme Dutton.
Julie-Ann Dutton and her family look forward to celebrating Chinese New Year with Curry Puffs made by her mother, Emme Dutton. Special to The Star

Julie-Ann Dutton and her family had New Year’s plans this past weekend. Jan. 28 marked the Chinese or Lunar New Year, one of the most festive traditional Chinese holidays.

Dutton was born and grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She moved to the United States in 1989 to attend college, studying to be a dietitian. In 2005, Julie-Ann’s parents, Denis and Emme Dutton, moved into her Lenexa home. This is where they enjoy family gatherings that include the families of Julie-Ann’s two other sisters who live in the area.

Julie-Ann says Emme’s cooking is a way to show her love for others.

“Malaysians believe that hospitality and food go together,” Emme says. “I love to cook and hope I am giving people a taste of Malaysian traditions through the food I prepare.”

Q: What festivities did your Chinese New Year include?

A: Part of the Malaysian culture is the joy of hosting others in your home and eating together. Chinese New Year in Malaysia is typically about visiting friends and family during the 15 days of the celebration. The eve of the first day is usually when the families have their reunion dinner.

My two other sisters and parents now live in the Kansas City area, and there’s always food and good family time when we get together, similar to Americans’ Thanksgiving celebrations. We celebrate the Chinese New Year out of deference and respect to my parents, but also because it’s a good excuse to eat my mother’s cooking.

Q: Tell me about Emme’s Curry Puffs.

A: The curry puffs are not specific to Chinese New Year but are common at many special gatherings in Malaysia. My family uses any excuse — birthdays and holidays — to eat them. We just hope my mother feels like making them, since they take so much work, but she typically makes them for Chinese New Year.

A curry puff is similar to an empanada, but with a Southeast Asian taste. Spicy curries with coconut milk are popular in Malaysia, and these puffs are a taste of curry in a pastry.

An idea for a “cheat” version using the same filling substitutes the outside with pre-made puff pastry. My mother’s version requires frying, while I just bake mine using puff pastry in the oven.

Q: As a dietitian at University of Kansas Medical Center, do you recognize differences between what Americans and Malaysians eat?

A: Generally speaking, Americans eat more beef, dairy and sugar. People here tend to prefer their tried and true recipes and not want to mess with them.

Malaysians are always looking for new and better food combinations. Out of necessity from cost and availability, Malaysians tend to eat more fish, pork and chicken, and the climate also allows for a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.

I’ve also noticed that portions in America are much bigger and sweeter.

The special dish we only have this time of year is Yee Sang, which is a type of salad with all sorts of shredded radish, daikon, carrot, pickled ginger, pickled onions and tossed in a plum sauce dressing with fried wonton skins. The traditional preparation also uses raw fish marinated in vinegar, salt and pepper.

Q: This year marks the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese zodiac. Those born under this sign are thought to be trustworthy, with a strong sense of responsibility at work. Can you relate?

A: We don’t have any “roosters” in our family, but we highlight the traditional giving and receiving of clementines or mandarin oranges, which are meant to represent gold. The Chinese also hand out “red packets,” which are envelopes with money, traditionally given by married people to the children and unmarried family members. In a way, my mother’s curry puffs are also “gold.”

The traditional greeting during the Chinese New Year is “Gong Xi Fa Cai.” Although we say it as though we are wishing each other Happy New Year, it roughly translates, “I wish you greatest prosperity.”

Mary G. Pepitone is a freelance writer who lives in Leawood. She also writes a nationally syndicated home column. Email her at to nominate a cook.

Curry Puffs

Makes 18

For filling:

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 teaspoon, 1/2 cup water, divided usage

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 shallots, minced

2 bay leaves

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, boiled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 teaspoon salt

For pastry:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons margarine, cut into 1/2-tablespoon pieces

3 tablespoons water

For preparation:

Canola oil for frying

To prepare filling: In a small ramekin, mix curry powder with 1 teaspoon water to create a paste. Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, warm oil on stovetop over medium-high heat. Add shallots to pan and sauté until caramelized.

Add bay leaves and curry paste to pan and sauté for 3 minutes.

Add shredded chicken and saute another minute. Stir potatoes, salt and  1/2 cup water into pan. Cover tightly with lid and cook until potatoes are just soft and water has evaporated, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove bay leaves and allow mixture to cool completely.

To prepare pastry: Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter, work margarine into flour until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until a soft dough forms. Turn pastry onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to  1/10 -inch thickness. Using a 2-inch biscuit cutter, press out 18 circles.

To prepare curry puffs: On the stovetop over high, heat 3 inches of canola oil in a large cast-iron Dutch oven to 350 degrees, using an instant-read thermometer.

While oil is heating, prepare rounds for frying: Place a teaspoonful of filling on 1 side of each dough circle. Brush the outer rim of the dough with water, fold the dough over the filling and seal by pressing the edges together firmly, using the tines of a fork. Place the filled semi-circles on baking trays. Repeat the process with the remaining dough and filling.

Drop two prepared semi-circles into hot oil and fry for about 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden on one side. Turn over and fry another 1 to 2 minutes. Continue process until all prepared semi-circles are fried. Place on paper towels to drain and serve while hot.

Per puff: 165 calories (59 percent from fat), 11 grams total fat (1 gram saturated), 4 milligrams cholesterol, 14 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 124 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.