Monday, November 28, 2011

Javanese Nuts and Bolts


Nuts and bolts (AKA Party Mix) is a seasonal snack in my family, something that pops up around this time every year.  Although the recipe makes a generous amount, it disappears as fast as it is put out.  The combination of toasted cereals, pretzels, and nuts with butter and worcestershire sauce produces an incredibly addictive, not too salty snack (although I've always found the packaged versions to be overly salty and nowhere nearly as tasty).  As much as I love the original version (or at least the version that my mother makes), I decided to try giving it a little Javanese flavor.

Instead of butter, I substituted fresh pressed whole kernel virgin coconut oil.  To be honest, I was worried that the coconut oil would overpower the mix.  Fortunately, it proved to be a fairly subtle back note to the mix, not at all overwhelming or cloying.  In addition to the coconut oil, I added some crisp tempe, some fried kaffir lime leaves, and some fried, finely chopped lemongrass.  Instead of using worcestershire sauce, I used kecap manis, some fish sauce, and some panang curry paste.  Although not my mother's party mix, this proved to be just as addictive.  If you're looking to give a different twist on an old standby, I'd certainly recommend giving this a try.

Javanese Nuts and Bolts

2 stalks of lemongrass, inner lower third only, very finely chopped (easiest to do in a food processor)
14 kaffir lime leaves

2 cups bite-size wheat square cereal (such as Wheat Chex®)
2 cups bite-size corn square cereal (such as Corn Chex®)
2 cups bite-size rice square cereal (such as Rice Chex®)
2 cups toasted oat cereal rings (such as Cheerios®)
2 cups pretzels
1 1/2 cups lightly salted dry roasted cashews
1 1/2 cups tempe sliced into pieces 2" x 3/4" x 1/3" and deep fried until crisp

1 cup fresh pressed virgin coconut oil
1/4 cup kecap manis
1 TBS fish sauce
2 tsp panang curry paste

Preheat your oven to 225º F.

In a pan over medium low heat, fry the lemongrass in several tablespoons of the coconut oil until browned and crisp, like when making tofu with lemongrass.

Fry the kaffir limes in hot oil until crisp.  Alternatively, crisp in a microwave.  You want to be able to crumble them easily.

Heat the remaining coconut oil in a small saucepan.  Stir in the curry paste until it is dissolved in the oil, and then stir in the kecap manis and fish sauce.

In a large bowl mix the cereals, pretzels, cashews, and fried tempe.  Pour in the coconut oil mixture. Mix well, tossing and stirring the cereals so all get coated.  Stir in the browned lemongrass and the crumbled kaffir lime leaves.  Mix well and pour into a large roasting pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for about an hour, stirring every fifteen minutes or so.  Cool before serving.

I've found the kaffir lime flavor to become more pronounced the longer the mix sits.  This is a flavor I think can be overbearing--as I find it is in Trader Joe's Thai-spiced cashew nuts.  You can taste the kaffir lime leaves in this mix, but they don't dominate it. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Orak Arik Wortel--Carrots and Cabbage with Eggs

After the excess of feasting that is Thanksgiving in the United States, this is a simple, restrained vegetarian recipe.  As in many countries where animal protein is expensive and not a part of the daily diet of much of the society, in Indonesia eggs are a relatively inexpensive source of protein.  Orak arik are simple scrambles of vegetables and eggs. 

While a lot of Indonesian food is generously spiced, orak arik dishes tend to be rather tame.  The ingredients and the spicing indicate a Dutch influence.  According to this site, the orange carrots we are used to today evolved from varieties cultivated by the Dutch in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  The Indonesian word for carrot--wortel--is taken directly from the Dutch.

Although this could be served as an accompaniment to a meat dish such as grilled chicken or fish, it also is satisfying on its own with some rice.  Especially after the glut of indulgence these last few days, a dish like this is simply satisfying. 

Orak Arik Wortel

1 1/2 cups julienned carrots (about 3 medium carrots)
1 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
2--3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 TBS oil for stir frying

Heat oil in a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and garlic and fry until fragrant.  Then add carrots and cabbage and stir fry until carrots soften, around five minutes.  Stir in eggs, salt and pepper, and scramble until eggs and vegetables are well mixed and eggs are thoroughly cooked.  Serve with steamed rice.

You may notice I added sliced chiles, but those are strictly optional.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving and Loss

The world, my world, was diminished this week.  Tuesday morning in Kediri, East Java, my father-in-law died.  He had been sick for many months, weakened and ravaged by the cancer that first blossomed on his tongue six years ago.  He had had half his tongue removed, been reduced to a diet of liquid and pap, yet he was unbowed by the disease.  Oh, he complained about what the cancer had cost him, complained that he had lost his sense of taste while also complaining that the bubur, soto or whatever else he happened to be eating didn't taste good, but he had many of the same complaints even before the cancer.  The eldest male in his family, when Pa spoke, everyone did as he said without argument.  It was hard to see him this summer, months after the cancer had reappeared, struggling to speak, his voice stolen by the disease. 

I first met Pa a little over 18 years ago.  I had asked Tjing to marry me and she had, with great trepidation, gone back to Kediri to ask her father for his permission.  Had he said no, that would have been the end of it.  Never mind that we were both adults living independent lives, if Pa had told Tjing to end it, that would have been that.  Tjing knew (as did I) there was also a very good chance that would happen.  Although she had known me for almost six years by then, my existence had never been broached to either her mother, who died a few years earlier, or her father.  Knowing all this, it's rather remarkable that I wasn't more nervous when I went to the train station that morning to meet him.

In fact, Pa and I got along very well together right from the start.  We were oddly similar in many ways,  both probably more feared by our families than by the community at large.  Like me, he accepted there are idiots loose in the world, but wouldn't suffer fools gladly.  He was also comfortable with silences and had little use for idle gossip.  Unlike his daughter, he believed in getting to the airport or train station in plenty of time.  Tjing and I both had to laugh when we said our final farewell this summer and he was enraged because he thought we would be late for our train although the station was less than ten minutes away and he had us leaving with almost 45 minutes to spare.  He shook his fist and bellowed with rage at our failure to have becaks lined up in advance to take us to the station.  When we had finally managed to get our bags and ourselves into the becaks, he relaxed and dismissed us with a wave.

What a lot of people didn't realize is what a great sense of humor Pa had.  He came to the US a couple years after we had moved into our house.  Because Tjing didn't feel able to deal with him in the classroom, he came to study in the school where I taught.  As I was teaching a Beginning Low class, Pa was a student in my class.  In the class there was a Russian student who had a very prominent, very long nose.  He was also not particularly bright, one of those students who is always a page or two behind the rest of the class, so when he was asked a question he would give a nonsensical answer.  Pa nicknamed him "Petruk," one of the clown-servants in Indonesian wayang plays. To this day, when I have a student who is a little bit lost, I think of Pa and Petruk and smile.

One time in Bandung, where one of Tjing's brothers lives and where Pa often stayed, he noticed a worker seemed  to be upset.  When he asked him what was wrong, the worker explained he had had a bad dream.  In his dream the worker was reading the book of his life and he had come to the last page when he woke up.  He was sure the dream meant he would die soon.  Pa told the worker not to worry.  Maybe, Pa said, it was just book one in a series. They both laughed and the worker was visibly more relaxed, able to look forward to a long life.

I could never express how thankful I am that Pa allowed me to marry his daughter, to take her so far from him, and to allow me into his family and his home.  He always treated me with more respect, more kindness, and more love than I am sure I deserved.  He was a good man, one who taught me much in the brief time I knew him, one I am proud to have loved and been loved by, who I will sorely miss now that he is gone.  So I give thanks for the time I had with him, for the gifts he bestowed upon me, for his grace.  May he rest in peace.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vietnamese Cabbage Rolls


Until I lived in Vietnam, I had never thought of cabbage rolls as a Vietnamese dish.  I also had never thought of them as very appetizing.  I can only remember a few times when I had eaten them, and they always seemed like death warmed over.  In recent years golubsi, the Slavic version of cabbage rolls, have become one of the staples at school potlucks, and while I have had some pretty good ones, they pale in comparison to the Vietnamese version.

This recipe uses pork as the main ingredient for the filling, but in Vietnam we often had a vegetarian version with tofu.  Di Nguyet, one of the aunts in the house we lived in, was a devout Buddhist and maintained a vegetarian diet.  The rest of the family, however, only followed a vegetarian diet two days a month.  As much as I like the cabbage rolls with pork, I enjoyed the vegetarian version just as much.  I'll post a recipe for that sometime soon.

This is what I would describe as Vietnamese comfort food.  I have never seen it on a menu either here or in Vietnam, but it was a dish regularly enjoyed by the family we lived with.  It's a perfect dish for these cool fall evenings.  This recipe is adapted from Nicole Routhier's The Foods of Vietnam.

Vietnamese Cabbage Rolls--Su Nhoi Thit Heo
printable recipe

1 head of cabbage
1 pound of ground pork
6 dried shitakes, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, chopped
1 bundle of cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, cut in two-inch lengths
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 TBS fish sauce
1 tsp or more of freshly ground pepper
20 flowering chives or garlic chives, blanched 30 seconds, rinsed in cold water, drained


1 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes, no salt added, or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 TBS vegetable oil
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 TBS fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 cup chicken broth or water

Place the head of cabbage in a pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes.  Remove and place in an ice bath.  Drain and peel the leaves from the cabbage.  As you get towards the interior, you may have to repeat the process.  Boiling the cabbage makes the leaves pliable and easy to roll.

In a food processor, pulse the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms until they are finely chopped. (You can do all the chopping by hand, but this is one of those times when a food processor comes in handy.) Add the cellophane noodles and pulse several times before adding the ground pork.  Add fish sauce, ground pepper, and sugar, processing briefly to get a fairly homogenous mixture.

Place several tablespoons of the pork mixture on a cabbage leaf.  Roll the leaf as if making a burrito or a spring roll.  Tie a chive around the roll.  Repeat with the remaining pork mixture and cabbage leaves.  You should get around 16 bundles.

Heat a 12-inch saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat.  Fry the garlic and shallots in the oil until fragrant.  Stir in the canned tomatoes, broth or water, fish sauce, and sugar.  Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces.  Add the cabbage rolls, submerging them as much as possible in the sauce.  Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.  If you are unable to submerge all the rolls, rotate the submerged ones with those on top about half way through.

Serve with rice.

I'm submitting this post for Delicious Vietnam # 19, hosted this month by Ginger of Ginger and Scotch (which happen to be two items I have an almost insatiable appetite for).  Delicious Vietnam is a monthly food blogging event open to any Vietnamese food lover.  The  aim is to promote and explore the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine. 

The idea behind this event came about several years ago by Anh of A food lovers’ journey.  Hooking up with Hong and Kim from Ravenous Couple, the idea finally came to fruition.  To learn more about Delicious Vietnam and how you can participate, click on this link.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vietnamese Coffee Crack Pie

Having heard so much about Momofuku's infamous crack pie, I decided I'd make it for a recent bookclub dinner.  Essentially a variation of chess pie, Christina Tosi's crack pie is a rich, extremely sweet dessert; click on the recipe for it and a rash of links to diabetes control and information websites appear.  Had Jerry Garcia survived the heroin, this would have been his demise.  Give an eight-year old a suggested serving sized slice of this and pull him down from the ceiling eight hours later.


Reading the recipe for crack pie, I thought it seemed sweeter than something I would normally choose.  Still, I didn't want to just say no. I made Tosi's crack pie following her recipe verbatim.  It produced a luscious, enticing pie that everyone else in the bookclub enjoyed.  However, it was too sweet for my taste.  I loved the crust and the filling was wonderfully creamy and silky, but it was like mainlining sugar.

In as much I drink my coffee straight--black, no sugar, no milk--I still had some sweetened condensed milk in the fridge from making the Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream.  Hoping to make a pie that had the silkiness of Tosi's filling without quite so much sweetness, I decided to try a coffee flavored version of crack pie using the sweetened condensed milk.  The milk substituted for the cream and white sugar called for in the original recipe.

Vietnamese Coffee Crack Pie
printable recipe

1 prepared crust following Tosi's recipe
(I used a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom)


3 1/2 oz light brown sugar (about 7 TBS)
1/8 tsp salt
a scant 3 TBS milk powder
1/2 cup (1 cube) melted butter
1/4 cup espresso or strongly brewed coffee
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
4 large beaten egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

Heat the oven to 350º F.  Place the pan with prepared pie crust on a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, salt, milk powder, butter, espresso, and sweetened condensed milk until you have a fairly homogenous mixture.  Gently whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla without whisking in too much air.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust.  Bake for 15 minutes at 350º, then lower the temperature to 325º and bake until filling is just slightly wobbly.  This took around 15 to 20 minutes for the coffee filling, which has more liquid than Tosi's original filling. When done, remove and cool on a rack.

Refrigerate for several hours.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Slice and serve.
Tosi's recipe says each pie makes 6 to 8 servings.  I'd suggest 12 slices per pie.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Terung Isi Udang--Shrimp Stuffed Baby Eggplant

This is a recipe that is derived from a dim sum favorite.  Dim sum restaurants make a similar dish using long Japanese eggplant sliced on a bias, sandwiching the shrimp stuffing between pieces of eggplant.  It's a dish that is both attractive and delectable.

One of the many benefits of the extensive and diverse population of immigrants in California is the impact it has had on local agriculture and markets.  Each immigrant community brings its own flavors and accents to the communal table.  Thirty-five years ago fish sauce was a rarity, found only in Filipino markets.  In Sacramento, we've seen each wave of immigrants, from Vietnam, Laos, Mexico, El Salvador and Soviet-block countries to Afghanistan and Iraq, open markets to serve the tastes of their communities.  The farmers markets offer produce that was unknown here ten years ago.  One such offering is baby eggplant.

Similar in taste to Japanese eggplant, baby eggplant may be dark purple, light purple, or variegated purple and white.  They range in size from that of a medium egg, sometimes smaller, to several inches in length.  They're great in Thai curries, in salads, or simply grilled.  Stuffing them with a shrimp mousse and frying them makes for a tasty and visually appealing main dish.  With a side of stir-fried greens and some steamed rice, you've got yourself a nice dinner.  

Terung Isi Udang

12 baby eggplants (if unavailable, use Japanese eggplant)
1 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
3 green onions, green part only, finely chopped
1 tsp salt (plus more for salting the eggplant)
1 TBS rice wine
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch

Peanut or vegetable oil for frying

Make 4 cuts in the eggplants from bottom to top, so each eggplant is essentially quartered lengthwise but is still intact near the stem and calyx.  Spread the eggplant open and sprinkle with salt.  Set aside for twenty minutes or so while you prepare the shrimp filling.

Place the shrimp in a food processor and pulse until the shrimp are coarsely chopped.  Add the chopped green onions, salt, rice wine and cornstarch.  Pulse several more times to mix the ingredients thoroughly.

Squeeze and wipe the eggplants with paper towels to remove the excess salt and moisture.  Holding them open, spoon in the shrimp mixture. 

Heat about 2 inches of oil to 350º F in a wok or fryer of your choice.  Fry the eggplant in three batches, frying four at each time and maintaining the temperature.  Each batch should take around four or five minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  You may keep the first batches warm in a low oven (200º F) while cooking the remaining eggplant if you wish.

These may be served with a simple sauce of chicken stock with some ginger, green onions, and tausi (fermented black beans) slightly thickened with cornstarch, but they also taste good with nuoc cham, the sambal of your choice, or just on their own.