Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saté Babi with peanut sauce

One of the expected dishes at a rijsttafel, or Indonesian rice table, is without doubt the skewered and grilled meats, called saté. Served with a warm peanut sauce, satés are not only an intricate part of the rijsttafel's offerings, but have worked their way into the Dutch culinary cuisine as a lunch item, served with white bread, or as a late night snack.

The sauce itself can also be found on  patat oorlog: a serving of French fries doused in mayonnaise, chopped fresh onions and a generous helping of hot saté sauce, or as a dipping sauce for other meats, breads or vegetables. As an indispensable part of the blanched vegetable salad, gado gado, saté sauce can also spruce up a roast beef sandwich if you don't feel like cooking much. Make plenty of sauce in advance, as it freezes well and can be kept in the fridge for several days.

If you don't care for pork, you can use chicken or tender beef cut instead.

Saté Babi
2 lbs pork shoulder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons ketjap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1 tablespoon oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of half a lemon

Cut the pork shoulder into 1 inch cubes. Mix the brown sugar with the ketjap, coriander, oil, minced garlic cloves and lemon juice into a marinade. Toss the meat with the marinade in a bowl,  making sure each cube is covered. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate, for at least four hours but preferably overnight.

Soak wooden skewers about an hour beforehand, or use metal skewers. Thread five pieces of meat onto a skewer and roast over a medium fire until done. Pay attention and turn the satés frequently, as the sweet marinade has a tendency to scorch.

Serve the satés with the warm peanut sauce.

Peanut Sauce
3 cups natural peanut butter
1 cup water
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (spicy chili paste)
3 teaspoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon trassi (shrimp paste, optional)
3 tablespoons ketjap manis
Milk (possibly coconut milk, if you prefer)

Warm the peanut butter with the water in a small saucepan. Stir in the garlic, the sambal and the brown sugar and bring up to heat, stirring well so that the sauce doesn’t burn. Add the trassi and the ketjap and stir until blended. Taste. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a tablespoon of (coconut) milk at a time.



Serve hot.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rendang

Food is about love, about family (related or not), about community. No Indo event goes without food, no Sunday afternoon visits to family or friends goes without eating. The first question, after you've been greeted at the front door, back door or garden path is "Would you like something to eat?" And if you don't want, or don't have time to eat, you'll go home with a care package.

I have fond memories of an Indonesian family, friends of my father, that lived across town. We didn't interact very often, on account of me being busy with studying and eh....researching the Nijmegen nightlife, so to speak. On the occasions that I visited, their grandmother would immediately get up from her chair and go into the kitchen to cook, regardless of the time of day. If they had a particular kind of food they knew I liked, they'd call me to ask if I wanted some, and they would bring over a plate. Sometimes I would find a grocery sack hanging from the door knob with dinner, other times with a piece of spekkoek. At the time, as a young student and away from home, it made me feel welcome, loved and a part of something bigger than just my own little world. Nowadays, I find myself doing the same thing: sharing my food, showing love.

Braised meats, tender stews, marinated satays.....all foods that require attention and dedication. Rendang, today's dish, is one of those foods. With an intriguing variety of flavors, rendang takes time to prepare and mandates close attention towards the end, but the end results is very much worth the effort. It's Indo love on a plate.

Rendang
2 lbs beef chuck roast
4 shallots
1 lemongrass
4 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger, fresh
2 tablespoons of oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 star anise
1 lemon grass
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons tamarind paste
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Remove the fat from the beef and cut it into one inch cubes. Blend the shallots, the lemon grass (the tender white part), the garlic and the fresh ginger into a paste. If the paste gets too thick, add a tablespoon of oil.

Heat a skillet and add two tablespoons of oil. When hot, quickly sear the meat on all sides. Remove it from the pan and set aside. Reheat the skillet, add another tablespoon of oil, stir in the paste and toss in the cinnamon stick, the star anise, a piece of lemon grass that has been pounded so it will release its flavor and fragrance. Stir on high heat until the paste thickens and starts releasing its smells, and then add the seared beef. Lower the heat and add the coconut milk, water and tamarind paste (you may need to dissolve the paste in the warm water). Stir to make sure everything is mixed well, and simmer.

After half an hour, stir in the kaffir lime leaves and the brown sugar, cover the pan and simmer slowly. The goal is to braise the beef to the point where it is very tender, and at the same time to reduce the liquid in the sauce so that it practically clings to the beef instead of swimming in it. You achieve this by moving the lid partially off the pan or crockpot after an hour, and letting the liquid slowly evaporate.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Atjar Tjampoer

The first item we're going to prepare for the rijsttafel is an atjar. A sweet and sour pickled vegetable dish, it's served as an accompaniment with the rijsttafel. The sourness will cut through some of the richer dishes, and the sweetness will offset some of the spicier ones. Atjar tjampoer, a pickled combination of a variety of vegetables, is best after it sits for several days. The flavoring and coloring comes from turmeric, a much used spice in the Indonesian kitchen.  

Cut your veggies small, and blanch them quickly, so they remain in shape and keep a bit of bite. A nice crunch is perfect to balance out the softer and creamier foods on the menu!

As turmeric is not necessarily a spice that we use often in our own kitchens, make sure that what you have on the spice rack is not past its date, or too old. As you only need a little bit, it might be worth purchasing a little bit from the bulk spice bins in specialty stores to ensure a good flavor and bright coloring.

Atjar Tjampoer
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 carrot
1 cucumber
1 medium sized yellow onion
1 cup bean sprouts
¼ green cabbage
2 cups white wine vinegar
2 cups  water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon sambal oelek
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
2 teaspoons turmeric

Wash and cut the cauliflower into smaller florets. Blanch them in boiling, salted water for a few minutes. Peel the carrot and slice thinly. Peel the cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with the tip of a spoon. Peel the onion, slice in four quarters and cut into thin slices. Wash the bean sprouts and remove any brown skins or soft ends. Slice the cabbage into thin strips, removing the hard vein.
Bring the vinegar and water to a boil and stir in the sugar, the sambal, the ginger, coriander and turmeric. Add the vegetables and leave the mixture on a rolling boil for a few minutes, making sure you stir the vegetables well.
 
 
Strain the vegetables from the liquid and pack them in a clean, sterilized canning jar (depending on how small you cut the vegetables, you may need more than one jar). Pour the boiling liquid over the vegetables, making sure all vegetables are covered and there are no air bubbles in the jar. Screw a clean lid on the jar. Let it cool on the counter for two hours, then move it to the refrigerator. The atjar is best after three or four days, but will not hold indefinitely.



Saturday, June 2, 2012

Rijsttafel

First published in Dutch, issue #5

In many ways, my dad’s past is a mystery to me. His life in Indonesia, his childhood, even the years he first lived in the Netherlands or his time in the Japanese camps, where he was kept with his brother and his mom: I know so little about it.  When asked, he’ll give an evasive answer at best, or claims he’s forgotten since “that was such a long time ago.”
But about once a year, during my own childhood, I’d get an opportunity to delve into his world. I must have been about six years old when we visited the Pasar Malam Besar in the Hague for the first time, during the mid-seventies. Walking through those doors opened up a whole new world for me, and allowed me to enter my dad’s world, even just for a day, just to catch a glimpse. I stepped straight from the soggy Dutch soil into the bustling, busy atmosphere of a colorful, enticing and dynamic Indonesian pasar malam, the night market…the colorful dresses, the grace of the dancers, the sweeping melodies and most overall, the pride that people had: presenting their art, sharing their food, telling their stories. It was so different from our daily, Dutch lives.  As a child, I soaked it all up. This was my father’s world, his culture, his background. 

I savored those days I got to go with my dad to the pasars. After listening to the music, we’d scout out the food stalls. He’d look at each stall, ask a question or made small talk with the vendors, and we’d move to the next one. I knew that it was just a matter of time before he’d buy something and we would sit, side by side, eating without saying a word.  Sometimes he would tell me it tasted just like he remembered from his childhood, other times he’d wait for me to finish up so we could move to the next stall, without saying a word.

It was here that I first tried tjendol, a sweet milk beverage with tapioca tears and flavored with rose syrup. Where I once sank my teeth into fried frog legs, and where I ate so many satés that it almost made me sick.  This is where, after a reprimand from my dad, I learned how to take small bites of my thin slice of spekkoek, honoring and respecting all the hard work that went into making this layered spice cake instead of devouring the delicacy in two big bites, like I used to do.

My Dutch and Indonesian roots are inseparably enlaced and it’s often hard to determine where one begins and where the other one ends. Those twinings are not only reflected in the history of the unique Indo culture: it is also expressed in its cuisine, of which the rijsttafel is possibly its capstone. A Dutch concoction, fathered perhaps by necessity,  greed or nescience, the rijsttafel or rice table contains a myriad of dishes, showcasing the large variety of colors, flavors, ingredients and cooking techniques that encompass the regional Indonesian kitchens.  Small plates containing meats, vegetables and condiments grace the table, sometimes up to 40 dishes at a time, and are a feast for both the eye and the eater. 

During the summer time, we will showcase various dishes to create your own rijsttafel, with as little or as many dishes as you like. Selamat makan!