Thursday, August 23, 2012

Zucchini Ratatouille Roll-Ups

While I don't derive pleasure from killing any living beings, I do derive pleasure from their deaths.  This is true for anyone who eats of the flesh.  Were I a nobler human being, one further along on the path to transcendence, I suppose I would be a vegan and eschew all animal products.  Let the bees enjoy their honey!  Let the foxes eat the hens eggs!

Alas,  I am but a base creature who savors the flesh of other creatures.  Smoke the bees out of their hives and harvest their combs.  Break those eggs and fix me a frittata.  Flay that beast so that I may have a belt and shoes.  Much as I might wish I were more enlightened, I am borne with the desire for blood and marrow. 

I have evolved enough that I do not insist on animal sacrifice for every meal.  I am a big fan of dairy products, but they need not be present in every dish.  Fresh, seasonal vegetables properly prepared are no less satisfying than a well cooked piece of meat.  Salt and pepper tofu is not better than salt and pepper shrimp, but can be as delicious.  In summer in northern California we are blessed with an abundance of great produce.  This appetizer takes advantage of the local bounty.

Having recently received some wonderful zucchini, Japanese eggplant, and tomatoes from a former colleague who has been forced into retirement by an adult education program managed by a mean-spirited and vengeful drunk, I decided to try these out.  The filling is not a true ratatouille, but a simple sauté of the vegetables you would find in one.  Unless you possess amazing knife skills, a mandoline is needed for slicing the zucchini.  The zucchini are grilled, allowed to cool, and then rolled around a spoonful of the sautéed vegetables.  The end result is a tasty appetizer packed with the flavors of summer.

Zucchini Ratatouille Roll-Ups

1 medium size zucchini
1 large red pepper
1/2 yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
3-4 tomatoes
2-3 Japanese eggplant, chopped into a small dice
1 clove of garlic, peeled, minced
3 TBS olive oil
salt, to taste
1/2 tsp --1 tsp herbs de provence
chives (I used garlic chives because I had them in) blanched and drained
finely julienned fresh basil (optional)

With a mandoline, slice the zucchini lengthwise into pieces about 1/8" thick.  You will have some odds and ends of zucchini leftover.  Cut these into a small dice and reserve them.  Brush the zucchini slices with olive oil and grill on a medium hot grill 4 to 5 minutes.  You don't want to overcook these, but you do want to have good grill marks on at least one side.  Remove from the grill and cool.

Char the pepper on the grill.  When the skin is blackened on all sides, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for fifteen minutes or so.  Rub the charred skin off the pepper.  Cut the pepper into a small dice.

At the same time the pepper is on the grill, char the tomatoes.  They will probably take less time.  Peel and chop into small dice.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add garlic and onions and cook until softened, but not browned.  Add the eggplant and continue cooking until softened. Stir in the reserved zucchini bits.  Add in the diced peppers and tomatoes along with the herbs de provence, season to taste with the salt, and simmer over a low heat until almost all of the liquid is cooked off and you have this wonderful ratatouille jam.  Remove from the heat and let cool.  If you like, julienned basil is a nice addition.

Take a heaping teaspoonful of the vegetable mixture and place on the wide end of a zucchini strip.  Roll up and secure the roll by tying it with a blanched chive.  These can be made several hours before serving.  Serve at room temperature.

Obviously, this recipe is very flexible.  Use what you like and adapt it to your taste. I got nine slices out of the zucchini.  There was more filling, but I ended up just eating that by the spoonful.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Steamed Silken Tofu with Ginger, Green Onions, and Cilantro

It might seem odd that after spending much of the summer in Kediri, self proclaimed Kota Tahu (Tofu City) in Indonesia, that one of the first things I cooked upon returning to the States was this silken tofu dish, but this is not something you generally find in Indonesia.  I first tasted something like this dish some years ago in Kuala Terengganu in Malaysia. Tjing and I were at a rather unassuming Chinese restaurant and decided to give it a try.  It was a surprising burst of flavor against the backdrop of the silken tofu.  I have never come across the dish at any other restaurant.  Web searches have been fruitless as well.

When Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu came out, I eagerly purchased it hoping to find a recipe for the dish in it.  Alas, although her book has many delicious recipes (and the silken tofu I used in this recipe is made following her directions), it doesn't have this recipe in it.  She has several recipes using silken tofu cold, but nothing like that dish we had in KT. 

Actually, this is similar to the Chinese way of steaming fish.  The tofu is steamed and then sprinkled with finely julienned ginger and green onions, sprinkled with a vinegar-laced soy sauce dressing and chopped cilantro, and then drizzled with smoking hot peanut oil.  The oil flash cooks the herbs and adds a richness to the tofu.  This is one of those dishes meat eaters and vegans can both enjoy.  Indeed, this is one of those dishes that could actually get meat eaters to concede that a vegan diet might be possible, were all vegan dishes this tasty.

Silken Tofu with Ginger, Green Onions, and Cilantro

1 block of silken tofu, sliced into 1-inch thick rectangles
4 tsp kecap manis
4 tsp black vinegar
3 tsp soy sauce
1 inch piece of young ginger, peeled and finely julienned
2 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths, finely julienned
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tsp sesame oil
2 TBS peanut oil

Place the tofu on a plate, place half the ginger and green onions on top and steam for 8 minutes.  

Drain accumulated liquid from the plate.  Mix together the kecap manis, vinegar, and soy sauce.  Pour this mixture over the steamed tofu.  Sprinkle the remaining ginger, green onion, and the chopped cilantro on top.  Heat the peanut oil in a small pan until it is smoking.  Add the sesame oil and then drizzle this over the tofu dish.  Serve with steamed rice.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Returning to Galang

I first went to Pulau Galang in October, 1987.  Located southeast of Singapore, Pulau Galang was the primary refugee camp for Indochinese refugees (predominantly Vietnamese) in Indonesia.  Established in 1979 during the first wave of boat people fleeing Vietnam, Galang had served as a first asylum camp and a reprocessing center for refugees accepted for resettlement in the United States.  By the time I arrived in 1987, the reprocessing center (where refugees going to the US spent six months in language and cultural orientation classes) had closed and those refugees sent to similar camps in Phanat Nikhom (Thailand) or Bataam (the Philippines).  So when I arrived, Galang was only a first asylum camp, with a population of about 8,000--10,000 refugees.

This was neither my first time in Indonesia nor my first time in a refugee camp. I had previously worked in camps in Malaysia in the early 80s.  After that, I had taught at the national oil and gas training academy (AKAMIGAS) in Cepu, Central Java for several years.

Although very different from Pulau Bidong, going to Pulau Galang felt very familiar.  For one thing, I was reunited with Tom and Mike, some friends I had worked with in Malaysia.  Mike was the program director and Tom was another supervisor.  As teacher-trainers/supervisors in Malaysia, we had much closer contact with the refugees, as the schools in the camps there were almost entirely staffed by refugees.  On Galang only some of the very low level classes were taught by refugees, with most of the teaching being done by Indonesian teachers who were graduates of universities and teacher-training programs in Indonesia.  They were all able instructors and made my job very easy.  It was on Galang that I met Tjing, one of the teachers I supervised. Six years later we got married, so Galang was a special place for us.

This summer we went back to Indonesia to visit family.  Spending most of our time in Tjing's hometown of Kediri, we had brief visits to Bandung and Jakarta where her brothers and their families live.  We also arranged for a short visit to Galang, where we planned to meet up with Ing, another one of the teachers from Galang.  Unfortunately, Ing bailed on us a week or so before we were to meet, conscientious as always about her commitment to her job.

When it was still functioning as a camp (it was finally closed in the mid 90s), Galang was isolated, difficult to get to.  The only way to get there was by boat, and without a camp pass provided by the local authorities no one was allowed onto the island. Few refugees landed directly on the island, most landing at smaller islands scattered nearby, many times after being pushed off from Malaysia or Singapore.

Today the story is different.  With a series of bridges that now connect Galang to Batam, getting to Galang is now a simple drive of a little more than an hour from Batam.  When we were living and working there Galang seemed so isolated from nearby islands.  Going to TJP for the weekend was a treat and staff had to reserve a spot on the boat early if they wanted to go.  Now, hordes of tourists from Batam and Singapore drive to the island to spend weekends on the beaches.

Visiting Galang now, I realized how much effort it took to build the camp and provide the infrastructure.  Other than the places of worship--several Buddhist temples, the Catholic church, a small mushola--and a small museum with artifacts and photos of ceremonies that took place in the camp, there is little to see of the camp itself.  For people who had never been there in the 80s,  it would be hard to realize what life was really like in the camp.  The schools, the barracks, the staff living quarters, coffee shops and stores have all been engulfed by vines and vegetation.  There is little sense of the dynamic, vibrant community that the island once harbored.

The Site I pagoda, Quan Am Tu, has been completely renovated.  When I left in 1989 it had been abandoned and was succumbing to age and the elements.  The walls and ceiling were beginning to collapse.  With a view of the harbor in the distance, the temple was a place I used to walk to some afternoons to get away from the camp.  Geckos scrambled up the planks of the walls.  It was a place of great tranquility.  In renovating the pagoda, the old structure has been replaced.  The new pagoda is a structurally sound building, but reflects more the Chinese Buddhist community in the area than the pagoda that was built by the refugees.

As much as I wanted to enjoy our return to Galang, I left feeling somewhat disappointed.  The museum has an interesting collection of artifacts left behind by refugees, including numerous religious icons of Quan Am (goddess of mercy) and the Virgin Mary, and hundreds of pictures of visiting dignitaries, but little that shows everyday life in the camp.  There are no photographs of the barracks, the schools, coffee shops or stores that were in the camp.  While the two jail cells have been preserved, none of the schools have.  There is one wing of barracks away from the road that has not been overgrown by vegetation, but it will soon be swallowed by the relentless vines that cover the island.  I left the island feeling disheartened so little of the daily vibrancy of the camp had been captured.

I'm including some photos of the camp from the time when I was there.  I hope that others may have more pictures to show of the day to day activities in the camp.   I would invite anyone with pictures of the camp who would like to share them to post them to the Facebook group Galang camp.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What Did Me This Summer

Night Stall

I took a break from posting while visiting friends and family in Indonesia this summer.  I had originally planned to post more on warungs and rumah makans I visited, but I didn't visit as many as I had planned.  Instead, I ate mostly at home--my sister-in-law's house.  Lili is an excellent cook and manages to produce simple, delicious meals on a two-burner stove in the open-air kitchen at the back of her house.  Spending time with her, her husband and two daughters was all Tjing needed, and it did me fine.

We ate tempe and/or tofu (along with other dishes) almost every day, and I was fine with that.  Indeed, I could eat Javanese tempe every day without complaint.  The difference between tempe you get in Java and the stuff that is sold (at about ten times the price) in the States is like the difference between a crusty French baguette and a loaf of Wonder Bread.  Being that Kediri is Kota Tahu (Tofu City), the tofu was of top quality also.

We did eat out at times, of course.  We enjoyed some Chinese food at Sari Agung (also known as Canton) on Jalan Doho.  We had sate ayam at Pak Siboen's down the street.  Rujak cingur from the Madurese woman.  Martabak telor from Jalan Panglima.  Mie pangsit from several different places.  Tahu telor from the warung on the corner.  But for the most part we simply ate at home.

Sometimes one doesn't need do much to be content.  Sometimes a simple dish is as satisfying as an extravagant feast.  To do more is excess.  I'll be posting recipes again soon, but for now here are some photos of what did me this summer.

 Preparing Soto Ayam Kediri

 Soto Ayam with Lontong

 Mie Pangsit

 Mie Pangsit

 Mie Pangsit

 Treats from a Muslim Neighbor Before the Start of Ramadan

 Soto Pekalongan in Bandung

Yammie Ayam in Bandung