Indonesian Folk Songs and Spicy Eggplant (Terong Belado)

Like French ratatouille, the summery trio of eggplant, tomatoes, and red pepper make up the main ingredients in terong belado

Two weeks ago, I attended an event to celebrate Singapore’s 47th birthday that fell on August 9th.

By some strange turn of events, I was roped in to lead a few songs in the requisite sing-a-long sessions. We sang popular folk songs like “Burung Kakak Tua,” “Di Tanjung Katong,” and “Bengawan Solo,” all of which are popular across Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

While obvious to Indonesians (the Solo River runs through Central and Eastern Java), ownership of “Bengawan Solo” has always been disputed. To dispel all doubts, I did a quick Wikipidea search to reveal that the song was written in 1940 by Indonesian Gesang Martohartono. So there!

I grew up listening to this song in the traditional kroncong style, a popular folk style with Portuguese influences, that my parents played over and over and over again. To me, it sounds like a wailing cat in heat. However, when I looked it up on YouTube recently I found some more contemporary renditions.

Sung by Dutch-Indonesian Anneke Gronloh, this one has the distinctive uptempo beat of 1960’s tunes.

And I am in love with this jazzy version by Japanese songstress Lisa Ono.


Regrettably, I don’t focus on my Indonesian heritage often enough but it so happens Indonesia’s National Day (Hari Merdeka) is coming up on August 17. This year, Indonesia celebrates 67 years of independence from the Dutch who colonized them for 350 years.

So for this week’s post, I decided to spotlight a simple Indonesian dish that slips into the summer lineup effortlessly, its main ingredients comprising eggplant, tomatoes, and red bell pepper. Terong belado, or spicy eggplant, is usually eaten hot with rice. But for those who abhor eating hot foods in hot weather, I don’t see why you can’t eat it cold or at room temperature as a side (like antipasti!) for grilled meat or as a sandwich filling.

Terong, Indonesian for eggplant, cut into strips

In fact, the basic tomato-red pepper sauce is oh-so versatile. To make this dish with egg, called telor belado, fry whole hard-cooked eggs and toss them in the same sauce. Other ideas: drape the sauce over grilled meats, or stir it into potato salad.

If you’re still unsure about this beautiful dish redolent with the floral notes of kaffir lime leaves and the sassy sweetness of sun-ripened tomatoes, think of it as a ratatouille with a touch of the tropics.

~~~

Indonesian Spicy Eggplant (Terong Belado)

What luck! A glossy purple eggplant and a rainbow pint of cherry tomatoes miraculously appeared in my vegetable box this week. My mum prefers the long, slender Chinese eggplants as she thinks the western eggplant has skin that’s tough as leather. But I know better, she’s just used to them. Ah … we’re all creatures of habit.

Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 large Western eggplant, or 3 Chinese eggplants
2 cloves garlic
2 Asian shallots, roughly chopped (1/3 cup)
1 large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 large tomato, chopped
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 teaspoon sambal oelek, or to taste
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 small white or yellow onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cut the eggplant into 3- by-3/4-inch strips. Cut the eggplant lengthwise in half. Cut each half into 3 horizontal layers. Keep them stacked and slice down the vertical into 4 strips. Cut the strips into half crosswise.

Swirl 2 tablespoons of oil into a large skillet or wok. When the oil shimmers, add the eggplant and sauté until the skin wrinkles and the flesh turns translucent and browns, about 5 to 6 minutes. Or do as my mum does and steam it. (You can cover the eggplant with damp paper towels and microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes.) Remove to a plate and set aside.

In a small food processor, pulse the garlic, shallots, bell pepper, and tomatoes briefly until they form a paste that looks like oatmeal. It will be a little watery but you want confetti sized bits to remain. We’re not making gazpacho here!

In the same skillet or wok, swirl in the last tablespoon of oil, and heat over high heat. When it shimmers, add the paste, sambal, and lime leaves. Fry until you can smell the red pepper and lime leaves, 4 to 5 minutes, and most of the juices have evaporated. Reduce the heat to medium, mix in the chopped onion, and simmer briefly. Add the salt and sugar and taste. The balance of flavors depends on how sweet your pepper and tomatoes are. Adjust if necessary.

Simmer for another 2 minutes until the onion is cooked but still crunchy. Add the eggplant strips and let them roll around in the sauce until well coated.

Serve hot with rice as part of a multi-course meal, or let cool to room temperature.

~~~

Summer Grilling with Korean-Style Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

English: Preparing grill for grilling, grill w...
Time to get grilling! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Seattle, we don’t expect summer–the most elusive of all seasons–to make a gracious appearance until after July 4th.

One week post-Independence Day, I am happy to report that the past few days have been gloriously sunny! The temps have rolled into the 70’s and 80’s, and we’re even starting to complain about the heat.

While true Seattleites have no qualms about being pelted by raindrops while guarding the grill, it’s always more pleasant when skies are blue and steaks aren’t sodden.

I know better than to take our gorgeous weather for granted so we have a few outdoor-centric activities planned for the next few days and that, of course, includes a barbecue.

Call me a snob but I’m not a burgers and hotdogs (bratwurst, yes, but I don‘t consider them one and the same) kinda gal. I prefer sate, pork chops and chicken wings, foods we always had at our family barbecues growing up. That being said, my husband usually insists on throwing some patties and buns on the grill, “just in case people don’t care for sate.” Seriously?

Sure, it involves more prepping and elbow grease—as chief marinator and head sate-skewerer, I should know—but if you gather family and friends, it makes for easy work and a fun evening of chattering and gossip. And who could argue that tender, deeply marinated chicken morsels–flame-licked and kaffir lime-spiked–dipped into peanut sauce isn’t heaven on a hot and sticky summer’s day, or at anytime, really?

Now that I have you salivating over chicken sate, I’m going to tell you about a relatively new addition to my grilling repertoire—kalbi or Korean-style beef short ribs (sorry!).

To be honest, I don’t eat much red meat but I’ll happily eat kalbi. For some reason, my taste buds don’t register kalbi as beef. Similarly, rare flank steak or oxtail don’t taste beefy to me either.

I’ve eaten kalbi at Korean restaurants, and every time I’ve marveled at the meat so tender it melted like butter in my mouth.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wonder for very long.

I was enlightened when my friend and fellow food-writer extraordinaire Susan Kim shared her grandma’s kalbi recipe (and a few more) with me for “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.” The revelation was extraordinary, much like an initiation into a reverent circle of all-knowing Asian grandmas, which producing the cookbook was! It seems that every Korean grandmother has her own secret to tenderizing meat, ranging from soda (Coke or 7-up) to Asian pears, and in Sang Jung Choi’s case, kiwis. [Curious if kiwis are native to Korea? So was I, and as it turns out, they are.]

These methods and ingredients may seem unorthodox to the American cook but trust me, the results are impressive.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get grillin’!

~~~

Korean Barbecued Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

From The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook; Photo credit: Lara Ferroni

All Korean grandmothers have their own little secrets for making and tenderizing kalbi. Soda, sugar, and Asian pears are all common tenderizing agents. Grandma Sang Jung Choi massages kiwis into Korean-style short ribs—beef ribs cut about ¼ inch thick across the bone (instead of between bones) with three bones per slice—they are often available in Asian markets. Your butcher may also have the similarly cut flanken-style or cross-cut beef chuck short ribs; just ask if the slices can be cut a little thinner. Kalbi is lovely with cabbage kimchi.

Time: 30 minutes plus marinating
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

4 pounds Korean-style beef short ribs
2 kiwis, peeled and pureed in a blender
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
20-ounce bottle lemon-lime soda
Vegetable oil for brushing

Using your hands, massage the short ribs with the kiwi purée. Sprinkle each piece evenly with sugar and let sit while you make the marinade.

In a medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, sesame oil, honey, red pepper powder, pepper, and soda. Place the ribs in a single layer in a wide shallow pan and pour the marinade over, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour, or preferably 12 hours.

Prepare a medium charcoal fire (you can hold your hand over the rack for no more than 3 or 4 seconds) with the rack 4 to 6 inches from the coals, or preheat a gas grill to medium. While the grill is heating up, drain the ribs from the marinade. Reserve the marinade for basting, if desired.

Brush the grill rack with oil and grill the ribs in batches until they turn caramel brown and develop slightly charred edges, 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Baste with the reserved marinade during the first 10 minutes of grilling if you like.

Pat’s Notes: If you prefer, omit the soda and add more sugar or honey for a little extra sweetness.

~~~

This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month it’s all about barbecue! 

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Aleana‘s Home-made Ketchup, Relish & Mustard (BBQ-Friendly Condiments) at Eat My Blog

Charissa‘s Grilled Pulled-Pork Pizza with Roasted Corn (Gluten-Free) at Zest Bakery

Emma‘s Miso-Glazed Grilled Veggies and Polenta at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Working Mama’s Pork Tenderloin Bao at HapaMama

Jill‘s Steven Raichlen Ribs Interview at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled Cabbage (and Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw) at Joe Yonan

Lisa‘s BBQ Salmon with Tahini Dressing and Fresh Herb Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Taj Ma Hog & Not-So-Secret BBQ Sauce at A Cook and Her Books

Nancie‘s Thai Grilled Chicken Wings with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce at Nancie McDermott

Pat‘s Korean-Style Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Renee‘s Steamed Buns with BBQ Pork at My Kitchen And I

Hello? Seattle?

Seattle Center as night falls. Français : Le c...
The Space Needle and Seattle Center as night falls. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been in a pseudo state of déjà-vu since we returned to Seattle two months ago.

Considering how long I’ve lived here (albeit off and on), I expected to ease into Seattle life as effortlessly as shimmying into a favorite pair of well-worn jeans.

Everything I love about this city still exists. The crisp, cool air that makes believe I’m living and breathing spearmint and wildflowers. Delectable dim sum at Jade Garden, including their pillowy-soft har gao (shrimp dumplings) and sweet and savory char siu sou (bbq pork pastry), for less than $15 per person. A spectacular view of snowcapped mountains in triplicate.

Then, there are the things I don’t love as much. A freeway that is a perpetual parking lot whether or not it’s rush hour. The slate-grey concrete slab that passes for sky and the 50-something temperatures … it’s April for goodness sake! (Although last weekend was fabulously sunshiney!)

Yet somehow, I don’t feel like I’m in my Seattle. My Seattle doesn’t have a toll bridge (paying to cross beautiful Lake Washington is just wrong!). My Seattle doesn’t have a dozen hip restaurants I’ve never been to. Add to that the friends who have moved, or drifted, away.

More likely, I’m feeling the pang of my husband’s absence. He was a huge part of what made Seattle my Seattle.

No sense pining. I figured the only way to remedy the situation was to be like a tourist and reacquaint myself with the city of my past.

A couple of Wednesdays ago, my friend Ivy and I paid a visit to new-to-me Melrose Market. Stepping into the series of conjoined buildings, I was transported to another time and place. What used to be a series of repair and rebuild shops for foreign autos is now a covered shopping arcade housing, among other (mostly food) retailers, Homegrown sustainable sandwiches, Taylor Shellfish Farms, The Calf and the Kid cheese shop, and Rain Shadow Meats.

At the back corner of the market sat a sweet little flower shop called Marigold and Mint. While the blooms were attractive enough, I ended buying a clutch of flowering kale rapini from Oxbow Farms for the one reason that they ping-ponged between being familiar and not. It was my first encounter with these greens but their thick purple stalks and serrated leaves reminded me of purple kale, and the yellow flower clusters, gai lan (Chinese broccoli). I already knew exactly what I was going to do with them. I was going to prepare them the same way I would gai lan.

kale rapini
These gorgeous greens belong as much in a floral bouquet as on your plate!

At home, I gently unraveled the bundle–careful to keep the fragile flowerheads from falling off–to find the inner stalks still glistening. Droplets of morning dew perhaps? I’d like to think so!

I steamed the vegetables in the microwave and plated them. A few lashings of oyster sauce, a drizzle of sesame oil, plus a flurry of fried shallots later, lunch was ready.

As I took a bittersweet, herbaceous bite of my first kale rapini, I decided that even though Seattle this time round feels different, that’s OK. If I can use tried and true techniques to tame novel ingredients, why not approach life in the same way, by weaving the comfort of the familiar into the foreignness of what’s new.

~~~

Steamed Kale Rapini with Oyster Sauce and Sesame Oil

This is more a method than a recipe as I don’t usually bother measuring and eyeball everything, as can you! If you prefer, use an asparagus steamer or simply a pot of boiling water to blanch the vegetables. Just don’t overcook them. Try this with broccolini, kale, or asparagus; the medley of bitter greens, salty-sweet oyster sauce, and nutty sesame oil cannot be beat.

Makes: 1 to 2 servings as part of a multicourse meal
Time: 10 minutes

2 tablespoons oyster sauce
8 ounces flowering kale rapini, trimmed
Sesame oil
Fried shallots

Take your oyster sauce out of the fridge (that’s where I keep mine) and let it stand at room temperature. It will warm up a little, making it easier to drizzle.

Wash the kale rapini and spread the stalks in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with about 2 tablespoons of water and cover with a damp paper towel or microwave food cover (I love these!).

Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes until the vegetables turn bright green and are tender to the bite. I like the stems crisp, not soft and floppy. Microwaves vary in power so keep microwaving in 30 second increments until the vegetables are cooked the way you like.

Arrange the vegetables on a large plate. Drizzle with oyster sauce, sesame oil and sprinkle with fried shallots. Serve with freshly steamed rice.

Triggering Taste Memory with Purple Rice Pudding

Gorgeous black grains are transformed into a luscious burgundy pudding

There’s rice pudding and then there’s rice pudding.

Or more precisely, my rice pudding: “my” being yours, mine, or Uncle Bob’s.

Ask just about anyone and you’ll probably get an earful about a “secret” ingredient, or a tale inextricably linked to the memory of their childhood (or perhaps adulthood) rice pudding, be it seeds scraped straight from the vanilla pod or an emotional recounting of their six-year-old self standing by the stove watching mom stir rice and milk into a whirlpool of thick, creamy custard.

I’m no different.

When I first spied Maria Speck’s Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water and Dates recipe (Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, Ten Speed Press, 2010), I was overwhelmed by the taste memory of bubur pulot hitam (black glutinous rice porridge) swirled with smooth, velvety milk still warm from the first squeeze of freshly-grated coconut flesh. The result: a burgundy bowl of sweet bliss.

Ah, the power of comfort food! Just one whiff or taste (or the mere imagining) is enough to spotlight a singular emotion or event amidst the jumble of memories and thoughts that are churning in our minds day after day, year after year.

Dusty Springfield’s “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the soundtrack of the original “The Thomas Crowne Affair” started playing in my head in stereo.

Like a circle in a spiral
Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning,
On an ever spinning wheel
As the images unwind
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind

I can’t say for certain what it was about Maria’s recipe that triggered my memory. Perhaps it was the Forbidden Rice, an heirloom black rice variety trademarked by Lotus Foods. During Ming Dynasty China, this medium grain rice was reserved for the Emperor to ensure good health and long life. I’m not one to resist the thrill of an illicit ingredient.

Find Forbidden Rice and other Lotus Foods rice products at Whole Foods Market

Plus, the rice reminded me of black glutinous rice, the grain used to make pulot hitam. Uncooked, black glutinous rice and Chinese black rice are almost identical. After a spell on the stove, black glutinous rice huddles together and transforms into a chewy, almost gummy (but not in a bad way) porridge. Forbidden rice is more toothsome and the individual grains hold their shape better.

Once I started making the dish, I literally started tearing as I doused the chopped dates in the fragrant liquid. The fragrance transported me to my childhood kitchen where on the refrigerator’s topmost shelf always sat a bottle of rose syrup, far out of the reach of prying little hands. As a little girl, ambrosia was defined by one part rose syrup and four parts water served in a tall glass. Alas, this was a drink mainly served to guests. Only once in awhile, my brother and I were given a glass as a special treat.

Rose syrup is not to be mistaken for rose water. Or for that matter, a natural product infused with the essence of rose petals. It was (and probably still is) made with artificial flavoring and coloring, clearly, since just one glassful left my tongue stained a deep crimson.

No matter the source, memory is both a marvelous and precious thing. And just like Dusty sings, “Never ending or beginning, on an ever spinning wheel” our memories are in constant flux. But rest assured the images will always unwind in the “windmills of your mind.”

~~~

Purple Rice Pudding with Rose Water Dates

A food writer friend once said that he wouldn’t let chefs test his recipes because they couldn’t follow directions and always wanted to add their own spin. I’m not a chef but I’m guilty as charged. While it is difficult for me to follow a recipe to a ‘T’, I ended up giving this one just a mini makeover. Amidst claims that I am in denial about my lactose intolerance, I used coconut milk instead of half-and-half to nudge it closer to the rice pudding I own kinship with. And in place of the cinnamon stick, I sprinkled ground cardamom as an ode to my favorite kulfi flavor–rose water and cardamom.

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes

1 1/4 cups water
1/2 cup Chinese black rice
1/4 cup finely chopped pitted dates (about 6)
2 dates, pitted and cut into thin strips
4 teaspoons rose water, divided
1 1/4 cups coconut milk (slightly less than one 13 oz can)
2 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom or 2 cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small saucepan, bring the water and rice to a boil. Lower the temperature to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the rice is tender yet still slightly chewy, about 30 minutes. Some water will remain (do not drain).

While the rice is cooking, prepare the date topping. Place the chopped dates in a small bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the rose water. Add the date strips to a different small bowl and drizzle with 1 teaspoon rose water. Stir the dates in both bowls and set aside, stirring once or twice more.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon rosewater, coconut milk, sugar, salt, cardamom, and vanilla to the rice. Raise the heat slightly until the mixture starts to bubble, stirring several times. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle bubble and cook, uncovered, for 15 more minutes, stirring every few minutes or so. The consistency should be creamy yet soupy — the mixture will thicken as it cools. Remove the saucepan from the heat and remove the cardamom pods if using. Stir in the chopped dates.

Divide the rice pudding among small individual dessert bowls or cups. Garnish with the rose water-infused date strips, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes:
Maria recommends choosing firmer dates such as Deglet Noor that won’t turn to mush in the pudding. To lighten up the pudding, she also suggests using whole milk instead of half-and-half. In the same vein, you can use light coconut milk.

~~~

This music-inspired (well kinda) post is part of the Twitter #LetsLunch bunch. Here’s what the rest of the crew is raving about:

Tiger Cakes ~ from Ellise at Cowgirl Chef
Honey Mac Wafers with Coconut ~ from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Tommy’s Chili ~ from Felicia at Burnt-out Baker
Banana Bread ~ from Rashda at Hot Curries and Cold Beer
Chicken and Dumplings ~ from Cathy at ShowFood Chef
Quiet munchies for concert-going ~ from Patrick at Patrick G. Lee
Coconut Cake ~ from Steff at The Kitchen Trials
Cuban black beans ~ from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Gluten-free Thin Mints ~ from Linda at Free Range Cookies

Lemongrass and Pandan Christmas Sugar Cookies: An Experiment in Asian-Inspired Baking

stacked cookies

Growing up, my family didn’t have a tradition of baking Christmas cookies. My mom would place several orders of Bûche de Noël (Christmas log cake) for our family dinner on Christmas eve and to give away to friends but nary a sugar cookie was in sight.

I never realized what I was missing until I moved to the U.S. where everyone I met seemed to have a favorite family Christmas cookie. My husband has fond memories of churning out pizzelles (even though his adopted family is of mostly German descent, go figure!) in a pizzelle iron with his sister. My church friend Karen introduced me to biscochitos, or Mexican wedding cookies, the official cookie of New Mexico. (*Note: a reader insisted that biscochitos and Mexican wedding cookies were not the same so I removed this. Do you have an opinion?). And Deb was baking glazed Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) months before Christmas, packing them into tins to “age.”

When my sis and I lived in the same city for a couple of years, we baked an assortment of Christmas cookies to share with our friends: Snickerdoodles, Mexican wedding cookies, thumbprint cookies, etc. But that arrangement doesn’t last long when one of us is married to a man in the military.

This year, I wanted to create my own Christmas cookie tradition, as often happens when you have a child. Isaac isn’t old enough to help in the kitchen but I figured I could do with a little practice in anticipation of the time he’ll be ready a few years down the road.

The wheels in my brain started whirring and then it came to me: Asian-inspired sugar cookies!

You might take one look at my methods and decide, Wow, that’s a lot of work! It’s not that I intentionally want to make my already-complicated life even more difficult. Trust me, there is reason behind the madness.

red sprinkles

As I surveyed the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator, I made a mental checklist of yay or nay items. I nixed the idea of curried sugar cookies; too straightforward. Coriander and cardamom were common Scandinavian flavor profiles too and weren’t uniquely Asian. Then I pulled out the pandan leaves and lemongrass in my freezer. Hmm …

As you can see, I was just using what I had on hand. Considering we are moving again soon, it’s in my best interest to cook down my cupboards. I also had some bergamot oil which I know isn’t Asian-inspired, but I love Earl Grey tea so I thought, why not?

I adapted this recipe for the sugar cookie base and set to work. I divided up the dough into four parts so that I would not be fully committed to any one flavor. (Quadruple any of the amounts below if you’d like to make just one flavor.) As luck would have it, all of them turned out yummy. And chopping up the lemongrass and the pandan leaves wasn’t so hard, really!

In the end, it’s not just about the cookies. Although eating them is always part of the fun.

It’s about moms (and dads!), kids, and siblings whiling away a wintry afternoon, sharing a laugh as they cream sugar and butter in turn, and sprinkle candies on cookies. It’s about the joy of seeing a friend smile as they accept your prettily-packaged box of cookies. And there’s nothing like the sweet smell of cookies baking in the oven to spread warmth and cheer, and remind us that Christmas is here.

Merry Christmas everyone!

~~~

Experimental Christmas Sugar Cookies
Adapted from Easy Sugar Cookies on Allrecipes.com

cookeis in a row

Cake flour produces a softer cookie with a finer crumb and I combined it with all-purpose flour (I used white whole wheat flour because that’s what I had) so that it would still stand up as a sugar cookie. You can make the cookies entirely with all-purpose flour if you desire. I also prefer natural cane sugar to white granulated sugar. I like its richer, almost molasses-like flavor. If you prefer a sweeter cookie, add up to ½ cup more sugar.

Makes: about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup natural cane sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons Lemongrass Confetti (see below)
1/2 tablespoon Pandan Juice (see below), or 1/4 teaspoon pandan paste (available at Asian markets)
1/8 teaspoon bergamot or other flavoring oils
Sugar sprinkles or other decorations

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Combine the flours, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well mixed.

Add the dry ingredients gradually, blending each batch in before adding more. Mix well.

Divide the dough into 4 balls and place in separate bowls. Add the lemongrass bits, pandan juice, and bergamot oil to each bowl respectively, leaving the fourth bowl plain. Knead each ball with your hands until the flavoring is completely mixed in.

Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of dough into balls, and place onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten with the back of the spoon and sprinkle with colored sugar or other decorations.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden. Let the cookies stand on the cookie sheet for two minutes before removing to cool completely on wire racks.

Rinse out cookie sheets, wipe down, and repeat until all the cookies are baked. (Don’t place dough on hot cookie sheets or they will cook unevenly and/or burn quickly.) Or refrigerate (up to 2 days) or freeze (up to a week) remaining dough to bake later.

Lemongrass Confetti

Trim about an inch from the hard root end of one plump lemongrass stalk and chop off the woody top where it just starts to turn from green to pale yellow. You should have 6 to 7 inches of lemongrass stalk remaining. Peel off the loose, tough outer layers to expose the tender white core, then bruise the entire length of the stem with a meat pounder, large knife, or heavy glass to release the aroma and oils. Cut the stalks crosswise into very thin ringlets (as thin as you can possibly cut them). Then rock your knife blade over the pieces to chop them into confetti-sized flakes. The tinier you can chop the lemongrass, the less chance you’ll be chomping down on hard bits when you bite into the cookie. Or whirl in a food processor. You should get about 2 to 3 tablespoons from one stalk.

Pandan Juice

Pandan leaves are considered the Southeast Asian equivalent of vanilla extract and are used to flavor cakes and kuehs in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. You can find pandan leaves in the freezer section of Asian markets. They are occasionally available fresh. (Go here for an article on pandan leaves I wrote for Saveur magazine)

Rinse 6 pandan leaves and snip into 1/2 inch sections. Place the leaves in a small food processor with 2 tablespoons of water. Whirl until pulpy and wrap in a cheesecloth placed over a bowl. Squeeze out as much pandan juice as possible. You’ll probably have more than the required 1/2 tablespoon. You can boil it down in a small saucepan over low heat for a more concentrated flavor or just add the extra to a cup of tea.

~~~

New Potato Rendang with Green Beans and a Cook Book Giveaway

Many Asian dishes are naturally vegan–i.e. contain no meat products and no dairy–or are easily adapted. It’s not surprising since fresh vegetables are a large part of our diet, coconut milk is our “milk” of choice, and cheese hardly shows up in any of our dishes.

So when I found out that my food writer friend Robin Asbell was organizing a virtual potluck to launch her new mega-book I was excited to participate. Big Vegan, Over 350 Recipes, No Meat, No Dairy, All Delicious is a celebration of just how satisfying and alluring plant based cuisine can be. The book contains many easy Asian-inspired recipes that are not quite traditional but are still very appealing. They include: “Tofu Pad Thai,” “Edamame Dumplings in Handmade Green-Tea Wrappers” and “Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Lemongrass, Seitan, Sprouts and Basil.”

Robin is a Minnesota-based chef, food writer, and cooking teacher and an expert in natural foods. So you can be rest assured that her recipes are wholesome and tasty.

My contribution to the potluck is “New Potato Rendang with Green Beans.” Now my mom makes a mean beef rendang and I love her recipe. However, because it is such an involved process and uses a laundry list of ingredients that requires a trek to the Asian store, I never make it, preferring instead to wait until the next time I see mom again.

Granted Robin’s recipe doesn’t use traditional ingredients like lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves, nor the myriad spices, but that’s the beauty of it. All the ingredients are available at your neighborhood grocery store, the steps are simple, thus making the dish a lot more accessible to American home cooks.

I made the dish with no expectations and I’m definitely a fan! It isn’t as authentic as my mom’s rendang, but for as little effort as it takes (at least compared to her version!), it satisfies with a good approximation of Southeast Asian flavors. I’ll be making it again for sure.

Chronicle Books is giving away a copy of Big Vegan for my readers. If you’d like to win a copy, please leave a comment and tell me what your favorite Asian vegan dish is, or why you like rendang by November 7th. If you’re eating Asian, you’ve probably had several vegan dishes without even realizing it! Please don’t forget to leave me your email address so I can contact you if you win.

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New Potato Rendang with Green Beans

Adapted from Big Vegan, Over 350 Recipes, No Meat, No Dairy, All Delicious (Chronicle Books, 2011) by Robin Asbell

In Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, rendang is most commonly made with beef but you can use your choice of meat, as well as vegetables, as this recipe demonstrates. The green beans at my grocery store were a little sad looking so I used sugar snap peas instead. Since I had some kaffir lime leaves in the freezer I tossed some in and I substituted ground coriander for the cloves.

Time:1 hour
Makes: 4 servings

1 large red Fresno chili, seeded
1/4 cup/30 g minced onion or shallot
1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 lemon, zested
1 lime, zested
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, or 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup/240 ml coconut milk
2 Kaffir lime leaves, crushed to release their essential oils
1 lb/455 g fingerling or small new (baby) potatoes, halved
4 oz/115 g sugar snap peas or green beans, trimmed
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a coffee grinder or mini chopper, combine the chili, shallot, ginger, garlic, lime and lemon zests, turmeric, and coriander. Process to puree them to a smooth paste. If needed, add a little of the coconut milk to help it puree. Or use a mortar and pestle (which is what I did!).

In a wok or large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat until it starts to shimmer. Fry the paste until fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the coconut milk and kaffir lime leaves and mix well. Add the potatoes and bring them to a simmer, stirring. Cover and check often, stirring and adding water as needed to keep the potatoes from sticking.

When the potatoes are almost tender, about 8 to 10 minutes, add the beans, carrot, tamari, and salt and keep stirring. Cook until the vegetables are tender, another 3 to 4 minutes (or cooked to your liking), and the sauce is completely thick and coats the vegetables. Squeeze half of the zested lime over the vegetables, taste, and add more as desired. Fish out the kaffir lime leaves and discard.

Serve hot with white rice.

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Here some other rendang recipes to try:

Rasa Malaysia: Rendang Daging (Beef rendang)
Serious Eats: A series of rendang recipes to try
Seasaltwithfood: Indonesian rendang recipe

And if you’d like to check out the rest of the Big Vegan Virtual Potluck, here are the links:

Green and Red Spaghetti
Sandra Gutierrez

Bengali Curry of Cauliflower and Kidney Beans
Robin Robertson

Spanish Chickpea Fritters
Julie Hasson

Sundried Tomato-Kale Calzones AND 
Pumpkin Cherry Bundt Cake
Leinana Two Moons

Peanut Butter Tart with “Ganache”
Tara Desmond

Matcha Scones with Golden Raisins
Carol Golden

Maple Barley Granola with Pecans
Robin Asbell

Mango-Jícama Salad with Lime Dressing and Pepitas    
Susan Russo

Armenian Red Lentil Stew with Sesame Brown Rice
Bryanna Clark Grogan

Korean Miso-Tofu Soup
Nancie McDermott

Squash Quesadillas with Cranberry-Jícama Salsa
Jill Nussinow


5 Secrets to Making Fabulous Fried Rice

fried rice 008
Leftovers come together beautifully in a delicious bowl of fried rice

Everyone loves fried rice!

I know, I know, it’s a bold statement to make. I don’t think it’s a stretch though. Just think about the infinite permutations worldwide. Examples include: Indonesian nasi goreng, Thai pineapple fried rice, Filipino garlic fried rice (siningag), and that’s only in Asia! (Don’t worry I’ll delve into these a little more in another post). Fried rice is also wildly popular at Asian restaurants, often served with lunch specials and always ordered by my friend, X, who shall go unnamed.

I have a confession to make. Fried rice is the last thing on the menu I’d order when dining out (unless it’s chicken and salted fish fried rice, yum!) for one reason—it’s so very simple to make at home. A quick dig in the fridge for cooked rice, last night’s leftovers and whatever treasures are lurking in the back, and everything comes together in the wok in less than 20 minutes!

Making fried rice is easy in theory, but getting it right does take a little know-how. I don’t know about you but I’ve dished up my fair share of burnt fried rice, clumpy fried rice, and simply not very good fried rice.

After years of experimenting and watching, however, I have to say my fried rice is pretty good.  So here are my 5 secrets anyone can pick up and you’ll soon be on your way to making fabulous fried rice.

Read more at SmithonianAPA.org/PicklesandTea.