Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Laksa Betawi

Laksa Betawi is an Indonesian variation (more specifically from Jakarta--Batavia--which is the center of Betawi culture) of curry laksa or laksa lemak which is popular in Singapore and Malaysia.  Less spicy and simpler than its cousins across the straits, laksa Betawi is a lush, savory soup.  Made with coconut milk, it is richer than soto ayam, the chicken soup that is popular throughout the archipelago, but not quite as rich as opor ayam.

Like soto ayam, laksa Betawi is a meal in itself.  Usually served with lontong, it contains both chicken and shrimp.  The shrimp may be dried (ebi), or fresh.  In Indonesia it includes kemangi, lemon basil, but here in Northern California kemangi can only be found during the summer months, so I substituted Thai basil.  Rau ram (Vietnamese coriander, daun laksa in Malay), which is the herb of choice for curry laksa, would also be an acceptable substitute.  While it does not call for chiles in the broth, it would typically be served with a sambal, allowing each diner to spice it up to her preferred level of spiciness.

Laksa Betawi

1/2 chicken, preferably free-range, cut into 4 pieces
8 oz medium shrimp, peeled and deveined,  shells reserved.
2 salam leaves
1 stalk of lemongrass, crushed with side of a cleaver or a pestle
1/2 inch cinnamon
2 whole cloves
1 can of coconut milk (I prefer Chaokoh brand)
4 cups of water
2 TBS vegetable oil

Spice Paste
4 oz/120 gr peeled shallots (Indonesian recipes usually call for a certain number of shallots, but Indonesian shallots tend to be uniformly small, about the size of two garlic cloves.  In the US, sometimes you can find the smaller shallots, but more often much larger ones are available.)
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4 kemiri
1 inch fresh tumeric, peeled
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 TBS salt

To complete the bowls
2 cups beansprouts
4 oz rice vermicelli, cooked
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise
Kemangi, Thai basil, or laksa leaves

Grind the spice paste ingredients until you have a fairly smooth paste.  In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil and stir-fry the spice paste until fragrant.  Add the shrimp shells and the pieces of chicken.  Lightly brown the chicken before adding the salam leaves, lemongrass, cinnamon, cloves, coconut milk, and water.  Simmer, covered, about 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and can be easily shredded. 

Remove the chicken from the broth.  When it has cooled enough for you to handle it, remove the meat from the bones and pull into shreds.  Add the shrimp to the simmering broth and cook just until done.

When you are ready to eat, place some vermicelli, shrimp, chicken, and beansprouts into individual bowls.  Ladle the hot broth over the ingredients.  Add the kemangi or basil leaves and a slice or two of the hard-boiled eggs. 

You may choose to serve this with slices of lontong in place of, or in addition to, the rice vermicelli.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lumpia Basah Khas Bandung--Fresh Lumpia Bandung Style

In the United States, most people think of Filipino-style fried lumpia when they hear of lumpia. Long, thin spring rolls packed with pork and shrimp and fried until crisp, Filipino spring rolls are delicious, but they are a totally different animal than these fresh lumpia from Bandung in West Java.  Lumpia basah are more akin to the popiah you can find in Malaysia and Singapore.  Essentially a crepe with a sweet/savory filling of jicama, beansprouts, and eggs, these are a cheap, satisfying snack hawkers sell in Bandung.

As they are not fried, lumpia basah could be considered a healthful snack.  With bean sprouts and jicama both being low in calories and relatively high in fiber, these lumpia can be enjoyed without feeling guilty.  The various components of the lumpia can be prepared ahead of time, but they should not be assembled until shortly before you eat them.  If they are assembled and rolled hours ahead of time, the wrappers are prone to split and come apart. 

Although you could purchase the lumpia wrappers from an Asian market (look for "pastry wrappers" made in the Philippines in the frozen section) making your own is not difficult.  The frozen ones are very thin, but they also are more brittle, without the flexibility of fresh wrappers.  The recipe I use for the skins does not produce as thin a wrapper as the commercial ones, but Tjing prefers it to the frozen ones.

Lumpia Basah Khas Bandung--Fresh Lumpia, Bandung Style

For the wrappers
1 1/3 cups (200 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup + 2 TBS (200 ml) water
2/3 cup egg whites (5 to 6)
1 tsp salt

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt.  With a whisk, stir in the egg whites. Then add half the water, stirring until fairly smooth.  Whisk in the remaining water and continue stirring for about five minutes.  Set the mixture aside and allow to rest for at least 40 minutes.

Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-low heat.  Lightly brush with oil.  Ladle enough batter in to form an 8-inch crepe, using the bottom of the ladle to spread the mixture as needed.  As soon as the edges begin to lift from the pan, flip the crepe and cook briefly on the other side.  Each crepe should take about 25 to 30 seconds total.  Continue until all the batter is used.  This should make around 10 wrappers.

For the filling
1 jicama (about 1 pound/ 450 grams) peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 cups beansprouts
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) palm sugar (gula jawa), grated
1/3 cup water
1 tsp +/- salt
2 TBS tapioca starch
7 cloves of garlic, pounded to a paste
1 tsp ground white pepper
2 TBS oil

In a large pan that will hold the jicama easily, dissolve the palm sugar in the water and bring to a boil. Remove two tablespoons of this syrup and mix with the tapioca starch in a small bowl.  Add the jicama to the remaining sugar mixture and stir to coat well.  Cook over medium heat until the liquid is absorbed, and the jicama has softened and browned.

Heat a wok or large frying pan.  Add the oil and stir-fry the garlic and white pepper until fragrant.  Stir in the beaten eggs and scramble them.  After eggs are lightly scrambled, stir in the cooked jicama.  Cook for a minute or two before adding the beansprouts and salt.  Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.  As soon as the beansprouts begin to become limp, transfer the mixture to a bowl.

To assemble the lumpia, spread the bottom half of a wrapper with a spoonful of the tapioca starch thickened syrup.  Place a generous amount of the filling atop the wrapper.  Fold and roll like a burrito, folding in the two sides and then rolling until enclosed.  If you like, you can cut them into three or four pieces, but I think they're best enjoyed by scarfing the lumpia whole, bite by bite.