: Chicken & Corn Curry.

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Recently, we visited Dempsey’s Corner Orchard,  just 5 minutes from our house.

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For just $2 per person, we could spend the day and “eat of any tree” we wanted. You might say we had more freedom than Adam and Eve did.

Sorry, that was corny.

Speaking of corn, have you ever eaten a cob fresh from the stalk? One that you picked yourself? If not, you really should try it! As if all the beautiful fruit wasn’t enough, Dempsey’s also had a corn field for the customers to pick all that they wanted. It was fantastic! So juicy and so much sweeter when it is fresh! After eating a couple of these, we decided to purchase some for our supper.

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There is nothing wrong with plain boiled corn on the cob but this time I wanted to do something different. This fresh and tasty corn was worthy of something else. After thinking about it, I decided to use it in Opor Ayam, which is an Indonesian style chicken curry. Opor is enveloped in this rich, spicy, coconutty sauce.

I could write poetry about this sauce.

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This Opor Ayam recipe is not authentic. Instead, it suits our preferences. Normally, a whole chicken is cut up to make this. Also, one traditional recipe calls for 15 dried chilies….nope, not a typo.  Fifteen!!

I’ve only made this a couple times before, and only in one pot. It is terrific and easy just like that. But this time I did it a bit different.I finished it off in my cast iron casserole, adding the corn from Dempsey’s.

The corn, after cooking in the sauce and soaking up the spices, tastes spectacular!

Using breasts make this healthier. Boneless also make it kid friendly.  Because I have omitted the bone and darker meat, I have sacrificed some of the flavour. I’m ok with that. Feel free to use bone-in chicken, and thighs also, if you want. Just add a few minutes to the initial cooking time.

Not authentic, but very delicious anyway. This would appeal to someone who can’t handle too much chili. This is spicy but not very hot. You can make this using 1 chili if you prefer, without losing much flavour. The chili does balance out the sweetness and richness of the dish.

Ingredients:

2 ½   lbs boneless and skinless chicken breasts  (aprox 5 breasts)

2 shallots

1 tbsp diced ginger

3 garlic cloves

1 bulb lemon grass, sliced

2 dried chilies

2 tbsp coriander

1 cinnamon stick

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp salt

2 tbsp tomato paste

½ cup chicken stock

1 can coconut milk

3 or 4 Dried kaffir lime leaves (optional)

3 tbsp vegetable oil

4 large corn cobs, parboiled for 5 minutes and sliced (or 2 cups of vegetables of your choice)

Method:

Grind shallots, ginger, garlic, chili, and lemon grass into a paste. Cut chicken breasts into large chunks (cut each breast in 3 or 4 pieces).

Over medium heat, heat oil in a large pot and fry spice paste until fragrant. Add the coriander,cinnamon stick, curry, turmeric, and onion flakes. Stir. Add tomato paste and salt with a little water (just enough to keep spice paste from burning).

Add chicken to the pot and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Frequently scrape spices from bottom of pot, and toss chicken pieces around to brown them. Add a bit more water if things start to stick.

Pour in coconut milk, chicken stock, and add lime leaf to the pot.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes. * preheat oven to 370 degrees at this point * Uncover pot and reduce heat to medium-low setting.

Cook a further 15 minutes. The sauce should appear thicker by then and some of the red coloured oils will start to separate at the top. If this hasn’t happened, continue cooking until it does.

Now transfer this to a deep, 3 ½ to 4 quart casserole dish and add in vegetables.  Don’t waste 1 drop of the precious sauce, scrape it all into the casserole! Remove the cinnamon stick and discard.

I used 4 cobs of sweet corn that I previously parboiled and cut into slices. Sliced carrots would also work, or cubed sweet potato, or any sweet ‘ish’ vegetable.

Cover the casserole and cook in 370 oven for a half hour. Remove and give a gentle stir before serving.

Serve with rice or potatoes.  I recommend bread for sopping up the sauce!

Serves 6-8.

This is delicious just as it is, but if you wait one more day, it’s infinitely more yummy!

Just keep it sealed in the fridge (if you can delay digging in!)

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: Choy Sum & Mushroom Stir-fry

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I still had a mountain of Choy Sum left over from my last recipe. I was craving some stir fried greens.

When living in Singapore I observed that every great dish started with these 3 ingredients: chili, ginger, and shallot.

And I also observed that many of the experienced cooks did not depend on electric devices in the kitchen. Preferring instead to do everything by hand. Including grinding the spices. “No, cannot use processor”, I was told, as this wouldn’t release all the oils. Only smashing releases all the oils.

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I watched my sis-in-law making beef rendang once. It takes hours and requires regular stirring and scraping. I asked, “why not use a slow-cooker/crock pot?”. I thought I was being practical and smart, and that perhaps it would make her task so much easier. I still remember her confused look and her reply,  “but how can I watch it cook?”

Guess what? I make rendang a couple times a year. And I use the same method as my sis! Some foods you must watch as it cooks. You need to watch for changes in colour and texture. And it’s just not done until your eyes and nose tell you it’s done.

I can’t help but marvel at my Singaporean family. They are like kitchen ninjas. I once got up early in the morning, shuffled out to the kitchen, and there they were. All my lovely sis-in-laws, up and ready for the day, quietly chatting and chopping and filling huge platters with sliced chili, garlic, onions, etc, etc, etc.

How do they do it? And with such cheer? I still am not sure.

I think it’s mostly the lovely company they find in eachother.

Also, as my husband would say, “in Singapore, food is Everything”. And it is. It’s family, it’s culture, it even ties in with one’s identity. It is used for healing, for warming the body up, or cooling it down. I found this out when We announced our first pregnancy and I was presented with a bowl of chicken-rice porridge. The first of a few bowls, “good for mom and baby”.

Food is celebrated. It’s always part of a social gathering. If there is a gathering, there is always food. Days revolve around what they will eat next and who they will share it with. It’s like the expression, “I don’t eat to live, I live to eat”. When they aren’t eating food, they are talking food. Here in the west, for many, it’s about immediate gratification and large portions. Convenience over quality. We Westerners gobble down 2 hearty meals around the same time each day.Or, in contrast, some Westerners fret over their food. And some avoid eating whenever possible. In Singapore, you eat several times, day and night. And often surrounded by family and friends.

In my husband’s Malay tongue they greet visitors with, “have you eaten yet?”

I rather like their practice of eating frequent, eating the best and freshest, and eating it with those you love.

For dinner, I made noodles with stir-fried Choy Sum. It’s a very delicious and simple Asian side dish.

The greens retain some crispness (making it lovely for sambal dunking). There is a subtle smokiness imparted by the sesame oil and the oyster sauce balances out any heat by adding a salty-sweet combination. Fried fish would make a wonderful partner to this side dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb choy sum, rinsed and drained

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

4 small cloves garlic, sliced

1 red chili or ½ tsp hot chili paste

1 tsp of ginger, minced

1 shallot, sliced

2 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp sesame oil

Method:

First, trim ends off stems of choy sum. Cut off any flower clusters as well. Slice the greens in large pieces. Blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Take out and drain. Set aside.

Grind together the shallot, ginger, chili, and garlic.

In large pan or wok, heat oil and fry ground ingredients until fragrant. Add mushrooms and fry until soft and dark. Stir in oyster sauce.

Add greens to wok and stir fry gently for 2 minutes.

Serve up with noodles or rice, and sambal sauce on the side.

Serves 4.

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: Taste of Singapore – Fish Ball Soup

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My sister in law made me my first bowl of fish ball soup. Ever since, I have been in search of a good bowl of this soup.

Recently my niece in Singapore posted a picture of this yummy soup on Facebook. She helped translate some of the spices for the soup base. I made up my mind I had to try and make this the only way for it to taste good. From scratch.

Many years ago, I purchased frozen fish balls from a market in Halifax. I tried making the soup with them… big mistake. I try to avoid imported fish products since that experience.  Fish just does not travel well.

This time, I am making them myself.

Mackerel is a popular choice in fish ball recipes. But I couldn’t get fresh mackerel.

I decided haddock will make a fine substitute. It has a mild taste (my preference), it can be flaked into a fine texture, and it’s light- not oily. This will help make for bouncy fish balls. What I mean by that is a good fish ball needs to be springy/bouncy when you bite into it.

You will need a food processor to make the fish balls.

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You will also need some Asian greens to go into your soup.  I found Choy Sum at the Asian market. This was the Tian Phat Asian grocery in Halifax. The customer service was a bit lacking but this place is packed to the rafters with (mostly Chinese) food and housewares. They also had some nice Japanese tableware and prices were reasonable.

Sorry, back to topic…If you don’t have access to an Asian market you may be able to find a similar green called Broccolini at a regular grocery store. It’s a hybrid of the choy sum. Kai-Lan is basically the same. If you can’t get either, you could substitute baby spinach. Whatever you chose, it should be slightly bitter.

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The noodles I used are made from the starch of mung beans. They go by different names like cellophane noodles, glass noodles, or mung bean noodles. Not to be confused with rice vermicelli which is also popular in Asian soups.

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The noodles come in multi-bundle packs. I used 3 bundles.

As for how to make those springy fish balls, I stumbled upon this lady’s blog post on how to achieve perfectly bouncy balls. I ask you take a look at her detailed post, because as a native Singaporean, she knows exactly how the old Aunties do it. It’s also an interesting and entertaining read. As she explains a  ‘smack down’ method of getting the fish paste to bounce, she says, “60 slaps later, you will be rewarded with fish paste that quivers seductively when poked”. That was funny and reason enough to try making them.

Another blogger instructed only 40 slaps onto the board…if that makes you feel less intimidated. It didn’t work for me either. Thankfully I found out I didn’t need to be so brutal on my fish to get it to quiver. This is how your fish paste will look…

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Fish ball Ingredients:

500 grams fish fillets (haddock or mackeral, yellowtail, etc)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

2 tsp rice flour

50 ml cold water (to add bit by bit during processing)

Carefully remove any bones or skin. Chop then place fish in food processor (or blender if you don’t have one) and pulse, adding water a bit at a time, until smooth (but not too wet).  I processed mine in batches, otherwise I would have had a huge ball of paste jamming up my food processor.

Here is where I took a HUGE short cut. The blogger stated she slaps her minced fish down 60 times (!!!!) on a counter to get it to the ‘wobbly’ paste consistency required. Well, I noticed my processed fish had reached that point without having to do it the old fashioned way. Halleluiah!

If you want to do it the old fashioned way, here is how it’s done: Plunk your finely minced fish into a bowl. Taking a handful at a time, slapping the paste down onto a cutting board several times (40-60 or somewhere in between). It will start to come together visibly (should wobble a bit).  And you will most definitely have a headache, smell for days, and acquire sore arms!

Once your paste is wobbly, whichever method you used, place your quivering paste back in bowl and refrigerate for an hour.

While fish paste is chilling, prepare the soup ingredients.

Soup Ingredients:

1 litre chicken stock

1 litre water

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 slice ginger  (thumb tip size)

1 shallot

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 spring onion, thinly sliced (for garnish)

1 chili pepper, thinly sliced (half for soup, half for garnish)

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp white pepper

(Muslin tied bouquet garni: 1 inch chunk of cinnamon stick, 1 star anise, ½ tsp fennel seeds, 3 crushed cardamom)

1 cup choy sum, sliced in 1 inch strips

3 small bundles of mung bean noodles (glass noodles)

Wash and chop greens (leaves only). Set aside.

Grind shallot, half chili, garlic, ginger, and a few drops water into a paste. Set aside close to the soup pot.

Slice spring onion, coriander, and half remaining chili for garnish. Place in serving dishes, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

Prepare bouquet garni and dry spices. Set aside close to the pot.

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Just before taking out the fish paste: Prepare mung bean noodles (aka glass noodles) as per package instruction, rinse with cold water, cover, and set aside. Or, if you have a cooking partner, they can prepare noodles while you prepare the balls.

Take out fish paste from fridge, and roll them into balls (1 inch or slightly bigger), quickly setting them in shallow pan or large container. Wet the bottom of the pan with a bit of water to prevent sticking (without letting the balls soak in water- just enough water to wet the bottom). You should get approximately 20 fish balls from the mix.  Set aside.

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In large pot, over medium heat, heat sesame oil and briefly fry ginger-chili-garlic-shallot paste, just until fragrant. Pour in the chicken stock, water, and soy sauce. Drop in the bouquet garni. Raise heat to high and bring to boil.  Let boil for 10 minutes.  Then turn off the pot, let cool slightly. Remove bouquet garni from pot and discard.

** This next step is optional: To get my broth fairly clear and free of floaty shallot or chili bits, I poured it through a fine mesh strainer into a second pot. It just makes the broth prettier and it will prevent any chili bits from irritating my kids throats.  If you skip straining the broth, you did not need to turn the soup off.**

While at a boil, add fish balls. Reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes. They should float to the surface when cooked. Now add the greens. Cook for 4-5 more minutes. Add the glass noodles during the last minute of cooking.

Ladle into bowls and serve with optional condiments.

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Not gonna lie…there is a lot of work to this soup. But the cooking portion of this recipe is quick. I may not make this often, but I will make it time and again. The aroma and taste reminded so much of being in Singapore!

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And yes, my fish balls achieved bounce. I hope it wasn’t just beginner’s luck!

: Udon Stir-fry with Prawns and Spinach

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This is what my eldest daughter and I shared for lunch today. It’s a simple and quick meal for 2.

I purchased these packaged udon noodles at the Atlantic Superstore. President’s Choice make these great Japanese style noodles, in small multi-packs, all ready to cook. They are soft right out of the package so you just throw them into a stir-fry toward the end.

Once you have all your ingredients prepared this takes less that 10 minutes from wok to table! Quick and healthy.

2 + 1 tbsp vegitable oil

1 200 g package of soft udon noodles

6-8 uncooked prawns

2 cups torn spinach leaves

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 red chili pepper, seeds removed, minced

1 shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp ginger paste

2 tbsp  oyster sauce

sesame oil and soy sauce for drizzling (we used Indonesian sweet soy sauce)

Method:

In wok, heat 2 tbsp oil on high. Fry garlic, shallot, ginger, and chili until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add in oyster sauce and then prawns. Cook until prawns start to turn pink.

Reduce heat to medium. Make a well in center of wok and pour in egg, stir and scrape up the egg, incorporating it throughout the prawns. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add in the extra 1 tbsp oil and the udon noodles, loosening them as you add to the wok. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes until they are all heated through.

Divide between 2 plates and garnish with sliced chili pepper, drizzling on sesame oil and soy sauce to taste.

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: Curried Beef & Sweet Potato Stew

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This is one of my personal favorites.

It’s a comfort dish when you come in from a cold and blustery day. It’s also great for when you have a cold brewing. Especially if you pair it with a thick quilt and a good book.

I promise, if you are feeling miserable, this will help.

If you can’t find kaffir lime leaf (I got mine at Pete’s Fruitique), just use a couple strips of lime zest.

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Ingredients:

2 tbsp oil

1 1/2 lbs eye of round steak, cut into chunks

3 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed (roughly 1″)

5 large shallots, cut into large pieces

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 red chili pepper, seeds removed, and minced

1 tsp ginger paste

1 tbsp Thai red curry paste

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp salt

4  dried kaffir lime leaves

1 cup coconut milk

2 cups vegetable broth

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Method:

In a large pot, heat oil on high heat. Brown and seer beef in the hot oil, for about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic. Stir well and then add shallots, ginger, and chili, and thai curry paste. Fry until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

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Add sugar, turmeric, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and sweet potatoes. Stir and then follow with the vegetable broth, coconut milk, and drop in the dried lime leaves.

Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook undisturbed for 15 minutes.

Remove lid, immediately reduce heat to lowest setting and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. It will thicken significantly into a nice gravy. Occasionally give the pot a gentle stir, taking care not to break up the sweet potatoes.

...half way there...

…half way there…

Serve alone or with rice or bread. Serves 6.

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If you want to learn how to make these dandy chili flowers, here is a video. Thai peppers seem to work better than the peppers I used. It will take about 30 minutes to ‘curl the petals’, so you can do these as your stew is simmering…

: Prawn Noodles in Coconut Gravy (Laksa Lemak)

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Laksa Lemak is a Malay dish. At first glance it looks like seafood chowder, which we Bluenosers are very used to seeing. But it’s base is really a coconut-curry gravy. The rest of the ingredients, noodles, prawns, and accompaniments, are only partly submerged in the rich coco-nutty goodness. The gravy is meant to coat the many layers of ingredients, to ensure each bite is equally delicious….

Sound good? It is! When visiting in Singapore it was always these rich coconut based dishes that lured me in. I can’t resist them!

‘Tofu puffs’ can be purchased at Asian groceries (and they are puffier than mine). Like me, you can easily make them at home. All it takes is a package of firm tofu sliced or cubed, and then fry them until golden. They are crispy on the outside and soft and spongy on the inside. They are a great addition in this dish because they soak up the many flavours and the yummy coconut gravy.

Here is a quick video showing how to fry tofu puffs if you want to give it a try. It is recommended you drain the tofu of any water. Slice the package and gently squeeze the tofu while still in the package, releasing the water.

Many of the ingredients, as you will read, are set aside in their own bowl. The finished product is a layered arrangement of the main ingredients. So, in effect, you will need to have all these bowls placed in an assembly line, of sorts.

Ingredients:

5 shallots, sliced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

thumb size of fresh ginger, sliced

1 red chili, seeds removed, sliced

1/2 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)

1/4 cup blanched almonds

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp mild curry powder

1 tsp salt

2 lemon grass *bulbs, bruised

3 or 4 dried kaffir lime leafs (if you can find them)

2 398ml cans coconut milk

1 400ml can chicken stalk

200 grams of rice vermicelli

200 grams glass noodles (mung bean noodle)

1 package firm tofu, cubed and fried (see above)

1 cup finely shredded cabbage, blanched

400 grams prawns

300 grams bean sprouts, blanched

1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped

2 green onion, sliced thin

lime, sliced in wedges

1/2 cup crispy fried shallots

spoonful of sambal olek (optional, to add heat)

First, prepare the tofu puffs, if making them, and set aside. Also prepare the other accompaniments and set aside (cilantro, lime, fried shallots, green onion).

Next, make a paste by grinding almonds, shallots, garlic, ginger, chili, shrimp paste and oil, together. In a large pot, over medium heat, fry paste until fragrant, then toss in kaffir lime leaf and lemon grass bulbs. Quickly stir a bit of coconut milk with the salt and curry powder and add this to the pot. Give it a good stir and then add the rest of the coconut milk and chicken stalk. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.

While this is cooking, blanch the bean sprouts, rinse with cold water, and set aside in a bowl. Blanch shredded cabbage for 5 minutes in very hot water and set aside in a bowl. Prepare rice vermicelli by soaking in very hot water (recently boiled) for 5 minutes. Drain off water, cover and set aside in a bowl. Prepare the glass noodles the same way, only they are soaked for a couple minutes only (until soft and transparent). Set aside in a bowl.

Add the prawns to the pot now. Turn heat back up to medium, and cook until pink and done, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat off.

Prepare each bowl, first with the noodles, then bean sprouts and cabbage. Now add in the tofu, and ladle the prawn-coconut gravy half way up your mound of noodles. Top with other accompaniments as you like.

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: Rendang Daging (tender beef in spicy coconut gravy)

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I do try to limit the amount of meat I eat. But this dish is the reason I could never ever give up red meat.

I present to you Rendang Daging. This dish is rooted in Indonesian cuisine, but it is enjoyed in Malaysia and Singapore and throughout that whole region.

To explain it to someone who has never had it I would say, firstly, don’t judge it by it’s looks. It is not the most appealing dish to look at. To the naked eye, it’s just a mess of meat (beef or lamb) and coconut gravy. You may be put off by how it appears. My eldest daughter took it to school once to have her friends scowl at it and declare she had “dog vomit in her lunch”. Kids are sweet.

Once you smell it however, you get the feeling like whoa!! there’s a bunch of layers of tastes and aromas coming from there! I don’t know how to explain the flavour except that it drop kicks every taste bud…salty, sweet, sour, bitter…it’s got it all. Add to that the complex richness of coconut gravy that has permeated every nook and cranny of that beef which was slowly cooked for hours. Done right, the tender beef will fall apart once your fork disturbs it,kind of resembling pulled meat.

This is the one dish from my husband’s heritage I can make from memory. This is my family’s recipe which I share with you. We make it 2 or 3 times a year. It is not 100% authentic because some of the ‘exotic’ ingredients, such as galangal and kaffir lime leaf, are difficult to get here in eastern Canada. Regardless, it is AMAZING. Rendang was voted as #1 most delicious dish in all  the world by CNN travel.

Nasi Goreng, also from Indonesia, was voted #2… But that will be another post.

Rendang is even better the next day. Also, don’t waste any of the gravy! Not even a drop. That stuff is liquid gold, and there’s nothing better than mopping it up with a crusty roll, or piece of naan bread. My husband once used the leftover sauce as a burger topping. That was a killer burger.

It’s my family’s go to dish for special occasions. We make it during holidays, birthdays, or to honour special guests at our table. It’s very decadent throughout those parts of Asia. If it’s served to you, consider yourself spoiled and honoured. They only make it for the most special occasions, such as weddings or home-coming dinners. The weddings in Indonesia are very opulent. The food must also reflect the importance of such a grand day.

Javanese wedding couple. Photo credit to Juergen's photostream, Flickr

Beautiful Javanese bride and groom. Photo credit to Flickr, Juergen’s photostream.

Please try this for yourself. I hope you enjoy it, and along with us, count it as one of your favourite meals!

Ingredients:

2 lb stewing beef, cut into small pieces

*Grind the following:

2 lemon grass, just the bulb ends, sliced
5 shallots, sliced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
thumb-size ginger, sliced
3 tbsp sambal oelek or 2 fresh red chili pepper (I remove seeds from one pepper)

4 tbsp coriander powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 can coconut milk

4 tbsp brown sugar

3 tbsp dark soya sauce 

2 kaffir lime leaves (if you can get them)

4 tbsp unsweetened, flaked coconut, lightly browned in dry skillet

                                                                                                              

Method:

Grind the wet spices. Heat oil in large wok or deep skillet and add the wet ground spices with the dry spices. Fry until fragrant. Add meat and fold into the spices in pan, mixing well. Cook, over medium heat,until meat no longer looks raw.

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Reduce heat to medium-low and add in the soy sauce,lime leaves, and brown sugar. Stir well.

sweet and salty comes in with addition of brown sugar and soy sauce

sweet and salty comes in with addition of brown sugar and soy sauce

Pour in coconut milk and reduce the heat to low (number 2 on the dial).

before the coconut gravy thickens...

before the coconut gravy thickens…

Cover and cook, stirring on occasion, for 2-3 hours, until gravy is dark and thick or almost entirely absorbed by the meat. It depends on personal preference. I like to turn off the heat at around the 2 and a half hours mark, thus retaining some gravy. However, traditionally the meat is cooked until nearly dry (this takes longer than 3 hours).

Traditional rendang, cooked until nearly dry

Traditional rendang, cooked until nearly dry. Photo courtesy Jasmin Kitchen.

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gravy is done when it’s thick and dark

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Sprinkle on the toasted coconut and serve with steamed rice such as basmati or jasmine. Serves 6.