I love food that’s really, really hot and sweet and sour. This quick dish is easy to whip up on weekends. Fish is fried to crispy brown and garlic-based sauce is served on the side. It doesn’t get better than this.

Lemon basil must be the easiest herb to grow in our region. They just grow like weeds. Weed is the right word since mother can’t stand to not throwing my big pot of basil away. I am now re-planting a new batch. I used a lot less basil than what is called for. Once my basil grows like weed again, I will be generous.

The fish is bought from the local market, where fish are laid out in the open. They attract a lot of buyers and more flies. I picked my fish quickly and paid the guy. I am not a fan of darkish-enclosed fish market with muddy water. As mother have told me a thousand times before that morning, wash your meat and fish with coarse salt and water. So I did exactly that. Ran the fish under tap water for a couple of minutes, giving it a good rinse. Then sprinkle generous amount of salt and rub it onto the skin lightly. Ran the poor guy under water again. Make some cut on both sides and sprinkle fine salt, again. Generously dust the fish with tapioca starch. The starch would keep the fish from sticking to the wok when deep-fried.

Heat some cooking oil in a wok. Wait till it is really hot before putting the fish in. Fry for 4 minutes each side.

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Curry Puff

I have been wanting to learn how to make this for many, many years. Since when I was in non-foodie stage on my life. I have had my share of bad curry puff, or karipok, as we call it in our local slang. But even the bad ones taste so good! Imagine how heavenly will be the good ones.

We always stop by this big grocery store on our way home from work. I can also tell you it is not good to go there when you are hungry. It is where I pick up my cooking ingredients (okay, I admit, the “ingredients” are chocolate bars and chips). There are some stalls right in front of the store selling fried snacks. My brother picked up a couple of curry puffs from one of the stall, and we all agree they are not the most delicious puffs in the world. But everytime we go, we continue steering our foot to the same stall.

I am happy to share that I have stumbled across a great recipe, that works for me really well for more than a month now. And also very forgiving! Don’t you just love forgiving recipes? But I took pleasure in following every word of it.

Our version of curry puff is almost similar with the ones in Malaysia or Singapore. I don’t know the difference yet though. The puff is made from butter and flour, very flaky when fried. The fillings are some meat, potatoes and carrots cooked with generous curry paste. A lot of patience is needed, but they can be prepared in advance, fried half way done and frozen.

The dish called for a lot of prep work to be done in advance. Potatoes need to be cubed and browned in advance. Carrot needs to be cubed too, boiled and drained. Chicken needs to be cubed.

Living in South East Asia does have its perks. One of which is you can always buy freshly ground spice paste. You can go to any traditional morning (and wet) market and you can find spice stall. Come up to one and just let the seller know what you are going to cook. Be it curry, soup, soto. She will scoop up each of shallot, garlic, turmeric, galangal, or whatever supposed to be in each dish, already in form of paste, into plastic bags. Dried spices are given too. It really is much more exciting to grind spice paste myself, like what I have been doing in the blog posts so far. It does save a lot of time to buy. This 20 g (about 4 tbsp) curry paste cost about 10 cent and the curry leaves came along with it. Any medium-to-large grocery also carry their own fresh spice paste section, like Carrefour. The spices are so fragrant, they’d make you want to buy everything! But since they are fresh paste, with no preservatives (hopefully), they don’t really keep well. So you should just get as much as you need. Substitute this with ready-to-use instant / jar curry paste. Any kind would do. I’d go with red curry paste.

First, start preparing the filling. Stir-fry chopped onion with a little bit of oil in a wok till fragrant over medium heat.

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Peanut Cracker

I always wonder how the heck do people make those crunchy but slightly hard-ish peanut crackers. I guessed two points are involved. It would be time consuming process. And it would be a super oily deal. I was right at both counts. But I took pleasure in learning how to do traditional dishes, and I am dipping my toes in the pond of traditional snacks making.

The peanut crackers (or rempeyek) are familiar snacks for people who live in rural areas, where Pringlers are as alien as touchscreen cellphone. The crackers are made from spice paste-and-rice flour batter and peanuts, fried to crunchiness. The odd ingredient is lime water (saturated calcium hydroxide solution, also known as air kapur). It gives batter the light and crunchy texture to fried goods. It can be omitted, if you don’t mind slightly hardish crackers, but you can always fry thinner crackers. That proves to be a bit of a challenge for me. As you can see, my crackers were a bit too thick. Practice does make perfect. After the 30-th cracker, I got a hang of it.

This is best served with Indonesian vegetarian salad, pecel. Also great for snacking with beer!

Ingredients would include raw peanuts. The thin brownish peanut skin is always intact. It gives the crackers the yummy earthy note. Spice paste are made from grinding garlic, candlenuts, coriander seeds, cumin. Kaffir lime leaves are sliced as thinly as possible.

The batter made from mixing rice flour and coconut milk.

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Soto Medan

I have been really busy for the past two months with work that eating out has been a luxury. When you are too wrapped up around your work and all its problems, it is very difficult to enjoy a decent meal. For the past couple of weeks I have been leaving work a little early, about 6 pm, and rush to a local hotel to hit their dinner buffet. The food is average, but there are a lot of selections to choose from, and getting there a little bit after 6 is great. The place is still quiet and the food is just served. Nobody likes to eat food that has been poked around by tens of people, nor do I.

I noticed for the past weeks that there is a Soto Medan soup served in the buffet line. No queue in front of it at all times, unlike the western food section. The last time I was there, the chef had some servers to prepare small bowls of the soup and offer them to diners at their table. Desperate much? When I tasted it, it was not bad, just a tad bland, not like what I have at home, or at local eateries. It then hit me, that this Soto Medan must be our city’s local signature, if Marriott includes it in their daily buffet menu, although not very successfully.

The soup is simple coconut milk-based soup, cook with spice paste and serve with condiments. Spices used that gives it the vibrant yellowish hue is fresh turmeric root paste. Almost all of fresh and dried spices found and grown in our region is used in the soup. The condiments are shredded chicken meat, bean sprouts, glass noodles and perkedel (potato patties). The soup is served warm with all these, sprinkled with shallot flakes, chopped spring onions and Chinese celery and liberally dosed with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).

The secret of getting the best soto is fresh coconut milk, high heat when cooking, and constant stirring.

We grow our own turmeric roots in our front yard. They are easy to grow, and the leaves can also be used for cooking too. The leaves gives the dish turmeric flavor, without the color. This is not used in soto.

The way to enjoy soto is with a plate of warm steamed rice. Pour some soup on top of the rice, scoop up some condiments together with perkedel. Some likes to enjoy it the other way around. The rice goes into the bowl, instead of the soup on top of rice. Either way, it is delicious.

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Potato frikadel or perkedel kentang is our answer to mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes is mixed with spices such as shallots, garlic, candlenuts and white pepper. Add in chopped Chinese celery and spring onions, then shaped into patties. Little round patties are then dipped in eggs and deep-fried till golden. The perkedel patties are usual condiment to a special coconut-based chicken soup.

Funnily this is a great way to use up leftover potatoes in other dishes. KFC in Indonesia has this in their fixed menu. The culprit should be leftover french fries. Potatoes have always been deep-fried till golden before mashed. I tried boiling, the patties are soggy uncontrollably when shaped. Roasting might work, but I have never tried it.

Spices to be ground are shallots, garlic, candlenut and a bit of pepper.

I used assortment of potatoes – a couple of big giant ones and some reddish smaller ones. I am sure they have a couple of names to go with them but I have no idea what they are.

Deep-fry potato pieces in hot oil till golden.

Try poking one of them with a fork. If it goes through without much resistance, it is cooked and remove from the oil.

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