Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bodega Bay Bo Kho

We spent the weekend in Bodega Bay, a seaside community about 50 miles north of San Francisco.  It was a perfect weekend with clear skies, temperatures in the 80s, and whales in abundance just off the coast.  This was a little family retreat, so we ate well, my brother providing a Mexican meal featuring carnitas on Friday, my sister making a delicious Mexican inspired strata for breakfast on Sunday and a dinner that included coconut baked chicken and a spinach salad with persimmons, and Tjing made her famous bubur ayam for breakfast Saturday morning.  Saturday evening I cooked bo kho and made a green papaya salad with grilled shrimp.  My brother had smoked some salmon to accompany our cocktails before dinner and my mother baked a blueberry coffee cake for those staying until Monday morning (though we had a piece for dessert Sunday night).  Our family doesn't go hungry when we get together.

For lunch on Saturday, we stopped at the Spud Point Crab Company to pick up some crab sandwiches and clam chowder.  Literally little more than a shack that is situated just across the street from the marina, the company does a steady stream of business on weekends; when we got there at 11:30, all the tables were occupied. Although chili and hot dogs also make an appearance on the food board, crab is king.  The crab sandwich is a lightly dressed 1/4 pound of fresh, sweet dungeness crab on a soft, unremarkable roll.  They also offer two styles of clam chowder, white and red.  While they also sell crab cakes on Saturday and Sunday, those weren't going to be ready until after 1:00 the day we visited.

Anticipating a cool coastal evening enveloped in fog, I chose to make bo kho for our dinner Saturday night.  Bo kho is a hearty Vietnamese stew flavored with five spice powder, star anise and lemongrass.  As Tjing is not particularly fond fo beef, it's not a dish I make often, but it is a dish I have fond memories of.  We enjoyed a very good version in Dalat in 1994 when we were with our friends Harryanto and his wife Loan and their two young children.  Stews always taste better when the weather is cool, so I thought it would be the perfect dish. Of course, it turned out to be the hottest day of the year, with the heat possibly being responsible for a power line sparking a fire nearby that burned 75 acres of grassland and closed a small stretch of Highway 1 for about 24 hours.  Fortunately, I had paired the bo kho with green papaya salad with grilled shrimp, a salad that is perfect for hot days.

Later that night, the fog did roll in and bejewelled a spiderweb on the deck with beads of dew.  The company, the weather, the house and the food all made for a perfectly enjoyable weekend.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Salmon di Jendela--Ready, Set, Blog

Good food presented simply is what you’ll find at rumah makans (eating houses) in Indonesia.  Rumah Makan Murni (Pure Eating House) in Cepu, Central Java is my ideal for a rumah makan.  With a seating capacity of about eight, it makes as good a gado gado, soto ayam, and opor ayam as you will find in Indonesia.  The two women who run it, formerly two sisters, now one of the sisters and her niece, have resisted pressure to expand; they worry they wouldn’t be able to preserve the quality.  I try to maintain that same commitment to quality.

You might have noticed that Rumah Makan Murni is incorporated into the URL of this blog.  A pure eating house is what I aspire to in Javaholic, good food simply presented with clear photos and clean writing.  The food is front and center,not the blogger. I’m not really interested in becoming the “next blog star.” The world has enough faux celebrities; take Snookie, please. 

Why have a blog about Indonesian food?  Why is a londo or bulé writing about rujak cingur?  Indonesian food seems woefully underrepresented in English food blogs.  The fourth most populous country in the world with as many as 16,000 islands, many with dishes unique to their particular island, Indonesia doesn’t get the same recognition as Vietnam, Thailand, or Malaysia enjoy for their cuisines.  And that’s a shame.  It’s too bad that more people aren’t aware of tahu telor, rempeyek, and semur daging.  One of my aims in writing this blog is to make Indonesian food more accessible to others. While Indonesian food isn’t the only food featured on Javaholic, it is central to it. 

I came to know Indonesia and its food by a quirk of fate.  Previously a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal and then a United Nations Volunteer working in refugee camps in Malaysia, I was asked by the UNV agency if I’d be interested in working in China.  They wanted me to teach in Qingdao, where Tsing Tao is brewed.  This was in the early 80s. I  was looking forward to enjoying days on the coast quaffing beer with bowls of steaming shrimp.  Fortunately, the Chinese government apparently didn’t want an American, or at least didn’t want this American.  As a result, I was asked if I’d be interested in a position in Java, at the national oil and gas training academy.  That’s how I found myself a few months later in Cepu, swooning over the gado gado and soto ayam in Rumah Makan Murni. I spent most of the next decade in Indonesia, meeting my wife there while we were both working on Pulau Galang--the Indonesian camp for Vietnamese refugees--and eventually getting married in Surabaya in September, 1993. 

As much as I enjoy Indonesian food, I have at least as much love for Vietnamese food.  Not only did I live and work in refugee camps for close to three years, my wife and I lived in Vietnam for about a year shortly after we got married.  Living with a Vietnamese family in Saigon, we were treated to a great wealth of Vietnamese dishes. 

The recipes I present on the blog are sometimes straight Indonesian or Vietnamese dishes.  On occasion I include an Italian or Mexican or some other recipe that I think is worth sharing.  The focus, however, is on Indonesian and Southeast Asian food, and recipes influenced by them.

Salmon di Jendela--Salmon with Indonesian pesto in rice paper--is a dish that tastes as good as it looks.  Adapted from Fiona Smith’s Dim Sum (which might be more accurately entitled Small Plates from Asia), the salmon packets resemble Banh Kep Ngo, Vietnamese wafers filled with a sweetish peanut praline and decorated with cilantro leaves.  Wrapped in rice paper, the salmon is kept wonderfully moist, while the fried bottoms of the packets have a pleasing crunch.  In her version Smith steams the packets after frying them.  That seems backwards to me, resulting in a packet that no longer has a crisp texture.  If you don’t want to bother yourself with frying the packets, they are still delicious simply steamed.

Salmon di Jendela

1 lb. skinless salmon fillet, cut into 8, two-ounce squares
8 8-inch rice paper rounds (banh trang)
a few  cilantro leaves for placing on top of the salmon
1 TBS oil

Indonesian pesto

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, minced
1 to 2 Thai chilies, seeded and minced
1 cup lemon basil (kemanggi) or Thai basil, chopped
1/4 cup dry roasted macadamia nuts, chopped
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
2 TBS vegetable oil

Use a mortar and pestle to grind the pesto ingredients into a fairly smooth paste.  You want to make sure to grind the lemongrass and chiles well to eliminate grittiness.

Soften a rice paper round in water.  Place a cilantro leaf in the center, topside of the leaf  pressed against the round.  Lightly season a square of the salmon with salt and place on top of the cilantro leaf.  Spread a layer of the pesto on the salmon.  Fold the rice paper around the salmon forming a packet.  Follow the same procedure for the rest of the salmon pieces.

Steam the packets for 3--4 minutes over boiling water.  Heat the tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Fry the steamed packets on their bottoms (pesto side) for a minute or so, crisping the rice paper.

Serve with rice and pea shoots fried with garlic for a delicious meal.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Strawberry Lemongrass Jam

Steph Chows recently hosted her second annual jam exchange.  I thought I'd miss this one because I was out of the country most of the summer, visiting family and friends in Indonesia.  I'm not really much of a jam eater (I confessed to my exchange partner that I still have jam left from last year's exchange), but I like the idea of an exchange, so when I saw that I still had a chance to participate I did so.

Although I will blog about any recipe that I think is worth sharing, I try to tilt towards Southeast Asian food, or dishes with a Southeast Asian flavor.  Lemongrass is one of my favorite herbs and when I discovered Christine Ferber's recipe for strawberry lemongrass jam, I knew I'd have to make it.  Our freakishly cool summer has extended the strawberry season in Sacramento, and I was able to pick up a flat of six pints of strawberries from the nearby field for $10.

Although I've since bought Mes Confitures, which has a number of different and delicious sounding preserves, at the time I made the jam I found the recipe on The Wednesday Chef's blog.  To get the recipe, please visit The Wednesday Chef's post

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thai Garlic Rice Sausage

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to go to Thailand and taste Sai Grok Issaan , probably remembers the weird thrill she had biting into these morsels.  Rather than simply being seasoned meat and fat stuffed in intestines (and who doesn't love that?) these sausages contain prodigious amounts of sticky rice and garlic.  These are popular around train and bus stations, as commonplace in Thailand as tahu Sumendang is in Java.  Despite that popularity, or perhaps because of it--immigrants seem to disdain putting the common foods on their menus in the US--you'll be hard pressed to find these in a Thai restaurant in the United States.  That's a shame because they are delicious.

These can be formed into normal, garlic sausage-sized links, or smaller, ping pong ball-sized bites as I did.  For a lunch or picnic, I'd favor the larger links.  To serve as a starter or a component to a meal comprised of several other dishes, I prefer the smaller size.  Great on their own, they also are good wrapped in lettuce and herbs.  Both Thai sweet chili sauce and Vietnamese nuoc cham  go well with this sausage. 

The recipe is adapted from ones found in Hot Sour Salty Sweet and vatch's thai street food. The former uses sticky rice; the latter uses a greater quantity of jasmine rice.  I used sticky rice, but more in the ratio that Vatch suggests.

1 TBS minced cilantro root/stems (you can often find cilantro with roots at Asian markets)
10--12 ounces pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes, then ground
3--4 cups cooked sticky rice, cold
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
sausage casing

With your hands, mix the ingredients well.  This is a little like kneading a stiff dough, folding and refolding to amalgamate the pork, rice, cilantro and garlic.  Then, feed this mixture into your meat grinder (I have a small hand-cranked grinder that is sufficient, if frustrating, for this purpose) and grind using a 3/16 or 1/4 inch plate.  Stuff into the casing and twist off into links of the desired size.

Grill over medium-low direct heat, turning frequently.  Serve with lettuce and fresh herbs and either Thai sweet chili sauce or nuoc cham.