Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sambal Serai--Lemongrass Sambal


Sambal is a part of just about every Indonesian meal.  Sambals can be cooked, raw, with vegetables or proteins, complex, or simple.  Some varieties can be found here.  Sambal ulek (usually seen in markets with the Dutch spelling, sambal oelek) is the most basic of sambals, simply freshly ground chilies and salt.  Sambals may be served alone as a snack, or as an accent to spark grilled fish or fried chicken.  You decide how much sambal your bowl of soto needs, but no soto is complete without it.

Sambal sereh is a cooked sambal that is a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, but also tastes great as a dip for rengginang or krupuk.  Although not for the faint-hearted, the level of heat can be adjusted by the types of chilies used.  Here in Sacramento, the Asian farmers market--a few blocks west of the official Sunday farmers market--finds the stalls overflowing with a variety of  chilies, some hot, others blistering.  Cabai rawit--bird chilies--are particularly hot and can be found throughout the year in local markets.  Cabai keriting--curly chilies--are hot, but not as hot as cabai rawit.  They are rarely found in local markets or at other farmers markets, but they do appear in late summer at the Asian farmers market. 

The Indonesian recipe that I adapted this from calls for 100 grams of cabai keriting.  I used about 80 grams and added a gypsy pepper, a mild red pepper.  This made for a very hot sambal, but one that I can still enjoy just eating with rengginang.  If you prefer a milder sambal, use fewer of the curly chilies and more of the gypsy chili or red bell pepper.  I suppose vegetarians could leave out the dried shrimp and terasi, but the sambal would be less complex.  Terasi (belacan) is an acquired taste, but once you've become accustomed to it, you will long for it.

80 grams (a good handful) chilies  (cabai keriting, but any hot red chili may be used), seeded
1 mild red pepper
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 tsp ebi (dried shrimp), soaked in 2 TBS warm water for a few minutes and drained
1 tsp salt
1--2 TBS gula jawa (palm sugar)
1 TBS terasi (fermented shrimp paste)
3  tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 TBS vegetable oil
3/4 cup of water
2 stalks of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, crushed with a pestle and tied into a knot

In a blender or food processor, process the chilies and red pepper until you have a fairly smooth paste. Reserve.  Grind the garlic and salt to a smooth paste in a mortar.  Add the drained ebi, gula jawa, and terasi and grind with a pestle until smooth.  Add the tomatoes and continue to grind until all the ingredients are well mixed.
Heat a frying pan.  Add the oil and then the tomato and garlic mixture.  Fry until fragrant, then stir in water.  Add the chili paste and lemongrass. While stirring, cook over low heat until the mixture thickens.  Ideally, you want a sambal that is moist but not too liquid.  Scrape as much of the sambal as you can from the lemongrass.  Suck what remains on the stalks and count your blessings.

Serve the sambal with grilled/fried fish or chicken.  Or add to an omelet.  Or use as a dip for crackers, chips, krupuk, or rengginang.  Any way you serve it, you will enjoy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pineapple, Banana, and Coconut Jam

Every year since I started this blog a few years ago, I have participated in Steph Chows Jam Exchange.  An annual event that takes place each summer, the exchange is a chance  excuse for me to make up some jam.  Although I like various jams and have enjoyed those I have received in the exchanges, Tjing and I rarely eat it.  We are not real big on breakfast, but if we do bother to have something more than a piece of fruit, we are more likely to have fried rice or a bowl of noodle soup than a piece of toast with jam. So, besides giving away most of the jam I make, I try to come up with other ways of using it.

One of the jams I made this summer was from Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures.  This book has a collection of a number of intriguing combinations for jams and preserves, most of which I'll probably never get around to unless I start making more than one or two batches of jam a year.  The translation of the recipes is sometimes suspect, and the conversion between grams and dry measurements seems a bit off, but the ideas for different jams are inspiring.

I wasn't sure that banana would work in a jam.  I thought it would probably turn to a brown and unappetizing mush.  I also don't like coconut in cakes, cookies, or candies.  For some reason, dried coconut triggers the gag response in me.  I do, however, like fresh coconut--which this recipe calls for--and the combination of pineapple, banana, and coconut seemed like it would make a nice tropical jam if it came together.  Thankfully, it did.

Since our toaster gave up the ghost some time ago, I wanted some way to use the jam to good effect.  I thought it would give a tropical flair to some cheesecake, but wanted something in a more manageable size.  Using a one-inch diameter biscuit cutter, I cut rounds from a ginger-snap crusted cheesecake and topped those with a spoonful of the jam.  The eight-inch square cheesecake produced 16 bite-sized rounds (and some delicious scraps to snack on).

adapted from Mes Confitures 

400 grams of fresh, ripe pineapple, cored, cut into eighths lengthwise, then cut into 1/3-inch thick slices
500 grams of bananas (4 average bananas), sliced into rounds a little more than 1/2-inch thick
200 grams grated fresh coconut (I used frozen coconut I bought at an Asian market)
3 1/2 cups sugar (672 gr)
juice of one small lemon

In a large saucepan combine all the ingredients and bring to a simmer.  Stir well and make sure the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat and pour into a non-reactive container.  Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The following day, pour the liquid from the mixture back into the saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir until the temperature reaches 221º F.  Add the fruit and coconut and continue cooking for five minutes or so.  Check the set of the mixture.  Put the jam into hot, sterilized 1/2 pint jars, seal and process in a water canner for ten minutes.

**  Ferber's recipe calls for 3 3/4 cups or 800 grams of sugar.  800 grams actually comes to more than 4 cups of sugar.  I found that 3 3/4 cups is a tad too sweet for me.  I would consider using less, but not sure if that might not affect the jam when canning.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gokar Kencana--Ayam Goreng-Bakar--Surabaya

Bantam chickens are a breed of chicken that originated in West Java.  A smaller breed of chicken, they are, according to Wikipedia, a popular breed for suburban homes in large part due to their decreased need for space.  That such a chicken should originate in Java is fitting as it is one of the world's most densely populated islands.  Not quite one third the size of California, Java has almost 4 times the number of people as California, just over 136,000,000.  Good luck getting lost on Java; travel half a mile from any spot and it seems there is another cluster of homes.

While tempe is probably the most readily available source of protein on Java as it is cheap enough for everyone except perhaps the most abject poor, chicken is the most common meat of the Javanese diet.  Ayam goreng, sate ayam, soto ayam, and ayam panggang or ayam bakar can be found on just about any street.  Go hiking to get away from the masses and you'll probably find a hawker who has carried his grill and chicken up the mountainside to cater to hungry hikers.  A cold beer is a rare find, but a piece of freshly cooked chicken is never more than a few minutes from wherever you might be.

In Surabaya this summer, Tjing and I enjoyed a lunch at Gokar Kencana, a family restaurant specializing in fried and grilled  chicken. Anyone familiar with Indonesians fondness for acronyms might suss out the restaurant's focus (ayam GOreng) and (ayam baKAR).  In addition to chicken, the restaurant also serves fried and grilled gurame.

The restaurant is located in a suburb near several of Surabaya's universities, Universitas Airlangga, ITS (Institute Technology Surabaya), and Universitas Muhammadiyah Surabaya.  A spacious patio covered by an arching roof, the restaurant would seem to be a great place to grab a meal before or after classes.  It's much more upscale than the typical warung or rumah makan, but the prices seemed very reasonable at around 1500 rp for a serving of a quarter of a chicken with rice.

The fried chicken is not the KFC style with a crisp crust that absorbs grease, but the Indonesian style of chicken that is first simmered in coconut water with a mix of spices before being fried.  This results in a flavorful piece of chicken that is moist but thoroughly cooked without being greasy.  The grilled chicken includes some honey in the mixture that it is basted with while being grilled.  It is grilled on a custom made grill that uses briquettes rather than the lump charcoal that is more commonly used in Indonesia.  Both the fried chicken and the grilled were extremely tasty, as was the fried gurame.  Although I enjoyed all the dishes, I preferred the grilled chicken and its accompanying sambal.