Sunday, May 29, 2011

Foodbuzz 24 x 24: A Taste of Java--Nasi Tumpeng

Sri Owens has written a number of cookbooks on Indonesian food.  In her first, Indonesian Food and Cookery, she notes how animated Indonesians get when they get together to share a meal, and suggests "that in a Moslem country food has to do alone what food plus alcohol perform in Europe or America." When I happened to meet the Bishop of Surabaya a couple of years ago, he put it another way.  The Javanese, he said, love to get together to share whatever food they have, whether it be an extravagant meal or  a bowl of rice.  The important thing is to be together with others; the food is simply an excuse.

In my family, food is certainly important, but it doesn't have to do double duty.  No one has gone thirsty at a family gathering.  While we enjoy our food and drinks, we also enjoy getting together.  Ours is not a family that dreads communal meals.  Indeed, it sometimes seems we look for excuses to have a meal together.  When Foodbuzz agreed to my proposal for 24 x 24 to create nasi tumpeng to celebrate my nephew's graduation from CSU, Sacramento, we all looked forward to a warm evening on my mother's deck enjoying a variety of Indonesian dishes. 

Of course, that didn't happen.  While the normal high for May 28 is 85º F, yesterday was twenty degrees below that.  Rain is rare in Sacramento from May to October, but it rained steadily yesterday afternoon and evening.  All plans for the outdoor meal for 15 people had to be shifted indoors.  A few dishes that had been planned were scratched from the menu, but we managed.

The picture at the top of this post is of a painting my mother did of Sam, my nephew, from a photo of him at our rehearsal dinner in 1993.  His parents, Tju and Han, were invaluable in making the arrangements for our wedding.  Although we got married in Surabaya, both Tjing and I were living in Jakarta.  We also had a large contingent of my family come to the wedding from the United States.  Tju and Han took care of all the arrangements, booking hotels, arranging transportation, renting a villa for my relatives to stay in in Tretes for a few days before the wedding, and so much more for which we are eternally grateful.  All three of their children have now graduated from college in California, which is an especially remarkable accomplishment considering they came here with limited English skills.  

Nasi tumpeng is a ceremonial version of nasi rames.  Tumpeng is a a cone of rice said to symbolize a sacred mountain.  For this celebration, Tjing made nasi kuning (yellow rice) flavored with pandan leaf and coconut milk.  Besides cooking the rice, Tjing also made all the decorations and arranged the food around the tumpeng.  Forced to buy a different brand of turmeric than she normally uses, Tjing complained the rice was not as yellow as it should be.  


Besides krupuk udang and emping, the meal included tempe goreng, kering tempe, sate ayam (chicken satay) and sate babi (pork satay,  while not served in most Javanese households, is popular with Chinese Indonesians), ayam panggang Jawa (Javanese grilled chicken), empal (beef that is first boiled several hours, then cooked in a spicy coconut milk sauce, and then fried), perkedel jagung (corn and shrimp fritters), perkedel kentang (mashed potato and ground beef fritters), oseng-oseng tauge dan wortel (fried bean sprouts with carrots), and telur puyuh bumbu Bali (hard boiled quail eggs in a spicy sauce).  There were also brambang goreng (fried shallots), serundeng (roasted grated coconut), and kacang goreng (fried peanuts).  

Anticipating a warm evening eating outside, we planned a refreshing dessert.  Tjing made es campur which was favored by the Indonesian side of the family.  


My sister made two luscious ice cream pies, a vanilla one with a macadamia nut crust, and a chocolate one with a cookie-like crust.  I had also found some fresh litchees which were much sweeter than the ones we are usually able to get here.

The weather could have been better.  A cold rain in late May is not what I anticipated when suggesting this meal.  In the end though, it wasn't the food that brought us together.  We got together to celebrate Sam's completion of his undergraduate studies with a double major BA and to wish him continued success in the future.  We only wish his family in Surabaya could have been here to celebrate with us. 

Two sites I highly recommend for anyone interested in Indonesian food are Indonesia Eats and Indochine Kitchen.  Pepy, who writes Indonesia Eats, seems to have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Indonesian food.  It was from Pepy's blog that I recently stumbled across Indochine Kitchen, which has beautiful photography and very clear recipes.  Both blogs are very well written.

Telur Puyuh Bumbu Bali

Although telur bumbu Bali is usually made with regular eggs, quail eggs work well when you are serving many dishes.  They taste just like regular chicken eggs.  

20 hard boiled quail eggs, shelled (fresh quail eggs are sold in most Asian supermarkets)

6 shallots, peeled
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
3--5 red chilies, seeded
1 tsp terasi (shrimp paste), grilled in a piece of foil
2/3 cup water

2± tsp kecap manis, taste
1 TBS tamarind water
1 tsp gula merah or brown sugar
2 slices of ginger, minced
salt, to taste
3 large plum tomatoes, large dice

Combine the shallots, garlic, chilies, terasi and water in a food processor or blender and process to a fairly smooth paste.  Fry this in the oil for several minutes. Then add the kecap manis, tamarind water, sugar, ginger, and salt.  Cook for about a minute before adding the eggs and tomatoes.  Continue to cook until the sauce thickens, stirring the eggs to ensure they are well coated with the sauce.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Grilled Asparagus and Smoked Salmon Salad Rolls

I'm not one for mash-ups of cuisines or dishes that have no natural affinity.  While Korean and Mexican food may share certain characteristics that make the Korean taco seem a natural permutation, some fusion dishes seem forced, the culinary equivalent to bestiality.  Foie gras con molé rojo y carnitas de conejillo de Indias might be interesting and fun.  Bestiality, after all, has its adherents.  Still, there are times when it's best just to walk away.  

Not wanting to sin against nature, I'm always hesitant to mess with a good thing.  Goi cuon, Vietnamese salad rolls, are a very good thing.  Most often filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, rice vermicelli, lettuce, and herbs, they almost make one feel virtuous simply for eating them. 

One of the meals Tjing used to fix us when we lived in Vietnam was roast pork with banh hoi and fresh vegetables.  Living on the 3rd floor in a Saigon townhouse without air-conditioning, we frequently had this during the hot, dry months before the rainy season.  Composed of sheets of banh hoi brushed with scallion oil, thit heo quay (roast pork purchased from a nearby shop), beansprouts, pineapple and young banana wrapped in lettuce, the rolls required no cooking.  Dipped in nuoc cham, they were lighter than a sandwich and we could easily doctor them to our individual tastes.

Spring in Northern California brings us asparagus and dill.  Grilled asparagus with a squeeze of lemon is one of those heavenly combinations. Cha ca, the classic Vietnamese dish from Hanoi, pairs dill and fish.  Gravlax, salmon cured with dill, is a classic combination from Europe.  Add in asparagus with mustard dill sauce and we have a party.  Making a non-traditional salad roll using cold-smoked salmon and grilled asparagus with a mustard dill sauce, therefore, didn't seem as though I was bedding the beast.  A peck on the cheek, perhaps, maybe a whispering of "who do ewe love?", but certainly no walk of shame.

The rolls turned out as good as, or better, than I had hoped.  Had we had these in Saigon, they would have been perfect on those stifling nights before the rains.  Here, I would recommend one or two pieces as a starter, but we enjoyed a plate of them for a delightful supper. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lotus Stem Salad with Shrimp--Goi Ngo Sen

 Although I spent several years living and working in Vietnamese refugees camps, lived in Vietnam for close to a year, and have visited the country half a dozen times, I don't think I had ever had this salad until a student brought it to a potluck in my class in Sacramento several years ago.  Essentially a salad of lotus stems and rau ram dressed with nuoc cham and topped with poached shrimp, it is a delightfully refreshing salad.  Served with some freshly fried shrimp chips which I had recently received from our friends in Vietnam, it made for a perfect lunch for a recent birthday.

This is an easy salad to put together.  The dressing can be easily adapted to your tastes, decreasing the sugar if you prefer a sharper dressing, increasing it if you prefer a sweeter one.  You may omit the garlic and chili from the dressing if you like; I prefer the note the chili adds.  Although freshly fried shallots are vastly superior to the ones you can buy in Asian markets, I used the purchase variety and they were satisfactory (and much, much easier).

I adapted this from several recipes.  One source was Authentic Recipes from Vietnam, a book that has a number of good recipes.  Another source was Mai Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table.  Pham gives the useful tip of stirring the cut stems for several minutes with disposable bamboo chopsticks while in a bowl of water.  The hair-like fibers from the cut stems wind around the bamboo.  Regular chopsticks don't work because they are too smooth. 

Goi Ngo Sen--Lotus Stem Salad with Shrimp
6 to 8 shrimp, poached, peeled, and halved lengthwise
1 8 oz jar of lotus stems, drained, cut into 2-inch lengths on the diagonal
3--5 TBS rau ram (daun laksa/Vietnamese coriander) chopped
2 TBS fried shallots
2--3 TBS roasted peanuts, chopped

1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 red chili, seeded and minced
2--4 tsp fish sauce
2 TBS fresh lime juice
1 1/2--2 TBS sugar

First, make the dressing by mixing the garlic, chili, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.  Stir well to completely dissolve the sugar. 

After stirring the cut stems with the disposable chopsticks or bamboo skewers in a bowl of water for several minutes, drain.  Place in a shallow bowl and add the dressing and rau ram.  Mix well.  Place the halved shrimp on top.  Sprinkle with shallots and peanuts.  Serve with shrimp crackers.

I am submitting this to Delicious Vietnam #13, a monthly blogging event celebrating Vietnamese food.  Founded by Anh of A Food Lover's Journey, and Kim and Hong of Ravenous Couple, Delicious Vietnam welcomes submissions from bloggers around the world.   The roundup for Delicious Vietnam #13 will be hosted by Jing of My fusion kitchen. More information can be found here. Check out the roundup to find the details on who will be hosting Delicious Vietnam #14.