Last Chance Tomatoes in a Burmese-Style Salad

Supposedly, summer bade us farewell several days ago.

The signs are all there: the sun dips lower in the sky, shadows lengthen, and the occasional nip in the air gently reminds me that summer is winding down and autumn is nudging its way in.

However, all around me, nature is playing tricks on me. Blackberries still peek out from their brambly bushes. The Seattle sky remains clear and blue, with daytime temps lingering in the 70’s. And the tomatoes in my dad’s garden continue to grow plump and heavy on the vine, their green hue merging into red.

Three gorgeous heirloom tomatoes sitting in a row

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I’m relishing each day I can still bare my legs and zip out the door without a coat on. And with every satay stick I grill on the barbecue, I’m hoping it won’t be my last just yet.

This past Saturday, we took a ferry across the Puget Sound and spent a sunny day in Poulsbo where we ate fish and chips al fresco and my son chased seagulls around the marina. The next day, I turned my dad’s ripe tomatoes into a refreshing Burmese-style salad à la Alvina (remember Alvina?). It was a lovely way to commit the last flavors of summer to my taste memory.

Truth be told, I’m not ready to say goodbye.

And you, how are you stocking up on summery memories?

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Burmese-Style Tomato Salad

This tomato salad is loosely based on a Burmese salad Alvina once made for me. Her salad comprised shredded cabbage, chopped tomatoes, lime juice, dried shrimp powder, fried garlic, and the fragrant oil leftover from frying the garlic. I took a few liberties, borrowing some ideas from this recipe on Pranee’s blog. Because I already had store-bought fried garlic bits in my pantry (and yes, because I’m lazy) that’s what I used. But I can vouch for the deliciousness of frying your own. The how-to is available on page 126 of my cookbook (and elsewhere online).

Time: 10 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons lemongrass vinegar
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3 medium tomatoes, cut into crescents
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 small sweet onion, cut into thin crescents, soaked in water for 30 minutes to tame its bite
1 tablespoon fried garlic, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon fried onions, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon roasted pistachios (preferably unsalted), crushed, plus more for garnish
Chopped cilantro for garnish

In a large salad bowl, whisk the lemongrass vinegar, canola oil, and fish sauce together vigorously. Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Sprinkle with fried garlic, fried onions, pistachios, and cilantro, with or without abandon.

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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.

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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.

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