Friday, June 20, 2014

Strait-up Indonesian Cooking

To host my seven fellow Draupadi drama team members in celebration of our successful play, I selected the cuisine of a country which is only second to the homeland of the Mahabharata in the epic's popularity and cultural influence: Indonesia. Due to its location at the nautical crossroads of Asia, yhis cuisine has been influenced by those of lands near and far -- not to mention India, from where both the Mahabharata and culinary traditions were imported during the area's Hindu/Buddhist phase. In turn, it has traveled well regionally, and can also be found internationally, especially in the Netherlands, the homeland of its former colonizers. It has also made inroads in Dubai, and can be found in a few authentic restaurants in various parts of the city.

The rice base for the meal would be Nasi Kuning, favored for special occasions due to its bright yellow color reminiscent of gold.

It was fairly easy to make. 4 cups washed and drained jasmine rice, 2 tsp turmeric powder in 2 tbsp water, 4 cups of coconut milk, 4 cups of water, 2 bay leaves, 4 kaffir lime leaves, 2 bruised stalks of lemongrass and 2 tsp salt, brought to boil at medium heat and allowed to cook through on low until the rice was done (occasionally turning it to check).

I served it garnished with a few kaffir lime leaves. The herbs give it a good aroma, while the coconut milk used in the cooking process makes it a good complement for most any spicy sauce dish.

For the vegetable dish, I prepared Terong Balado, dish of eggplants in a sweetish chili sauce.

I first cut 4 long Japanese eggplants into large chunks, soaking them in salty water for a while, and then frying the drained eggplant chunks in a few tablespoons of oil until their color began to change (about 5 minutes).

Setting aside the eggplant, I ground 40g red chilies, with 10 shallots, 5 cloves of garlic, and 2 tsp salt into a paste, and fried this in the oil still in the pan for about 5 minutes, then adding 50g brown sugar (in place of palm sugar) and 20g tamarind pulp dissolved in 2 cups of warm water, to boil for another 5 minutes. For the next and final 5 minutes of cooking, I tossed in the eggplant.

The strong combination of sweet, hot, and sour flavors in the sauce went wonderfully with the Nasi Kuning.

The main dish for the meal was Ikan Bumbu, a dish of fish cooked in a spicy, nutty sauce. I rarely cook mackarel, so I thought I'd give that option a try, although numerous other white fish would have worked.

I rubbed in a kilo of halved fish with the juice of two limes and salt to let sit for a half hour. In the meantime, I ground 10 red chilies, 16 shallots, 8 cloves garlic, 10 macadamia nuts (in place of candlenuts), 2 cm ginger root, 2 tbsp tamarind juice, and a dash of salt.

I stir-fried the paste for about 5 minutes, and stirred in 2cm bruised galangal, 2 bruised lemongrass stalks, 4 bay leaves, and 6 kaffir lime leaves. I poured in half a litre of warm water and 2 tbsp Indonesian sweet soy sauce and brought it to a simmer, before adding the fish and letting it all cook until the sauce thickened and the fish was cooked.

The flavors from the herbs and chilies penetrated the fish to make it very tasty, and the sauce was rich and savory.

And for dessert, I chose a simple rice pudding called Bubur Ketan Hitam. In the absence of black sticky rice, I used 3.5 cups of red rice, washed and drained, and simmered them with 4 pandan leaves in 10 cups of water for about 45 minutes.

Finally, I added a cup of sugar syrup and cooked until most of the water was gone, then adding a pinch of salt and allowing it to cool before serving. It was good, but not very different from a regular rice pudding (except for a hint of pandan), and I someday hope to find and prepare it using the real black rice required for this dish.

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