Chicken soup, not only good for the body, but also for the soul? That good? For me, it is.
I love chicken soup, with noodles or pasta, rice or thick crusty bread. It is the ultimate comfort food. One of our uncles shared his recipe of chicken soup using freshly ground spices, and it turned out to be so great that I swore I could finish the whole pot of soup. Of course I will be bloated by the end of the day, but it would be so satisfying, mentally and physically.
It has all the usual ingredients, chicken pieces with bones still intact, bits and pieces of vegetables. Instead of chicken broth, the soup is flavored by candlenut, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cardamon and ginger. The soup would not be as clear as the usual consomme, but it is clouded by the spices.
The zest of the soup is so warming that it is truly the best version I have had so far. It would be great with some improvement, by adding some pasta or dumplings. But for now, I am keeping this as original as possible. The soup is served as one of the main courses for lunch or dinner, and fried shallots sprinkled on top – which is totally unnecessary. But Indonesians put shallots on everything, so who am I to deny the soup of this garnish?
The chicken meat used is whole chicken, cut into medium pieces. Unlike other version, this is only cooked for less than 1 hour. The gelatinous effect from the chicken bone is minimum and I personally think that all parts of chicken can be used, including chicken feet and neck. After the cut vegetables are added, the heat is lowered down to a simmer. As any other type of chicken soup, this one is still good the next day. Ours never saw another daylight.
It has been such a long time since the last time this dish is prepared at home. One of the reasons is that my mother does not do grocery shopping herself anymore – our cook lady does. My mother is convinced that she does not know her fish, hence we don’t get to enjoy steamed fish as much as we would like.
Steaming fish gets real fancy in local Chinese cuisine when a particular type of fish is used, silver pomfret (ikan bawal putih). Silver pomfret is shaped like butterfly and V-shaped tail and flat body, a type of seawater fish, mainly found in Indian ocean. They can grow up to 4 kg, but due to overfishing, they can only be found in the market in less than 1 kg per piece. In this region, it is considered one of the most expensive fish. It is also very popular in Japan and Malaysia. Because of its high profile, naturally, the best way to serve it is by steaming – using the least amount of ingredients and seasoning possible.
Before steaming, the fish is poached in boiling water to shorten steaming time and get rid of the fishy smell. After that, it is smeared with salt and soy sauce inside out and laid on top of and covered with other ingredients. Hot water is added before steaming to make sure the fish does not dried out.
The fish is at its best when steamed with low heat and just nicely cooked. The flaky meat would then be nicely infused with chilies, garlic and ginger. Served with steamed rice and some soy sauce for dipping.
Cassava (or ubi) is one of the most important source of carbohydrates in Indonesian diet. In some remote part of the region, it is used as staple food, substituting rice. The leaves are high in protein, and in some part of Sumatra there is a famous dish made from the puree of the leaves cooked in coconut milk.
I always have this in Batak restaurant, or Padang restaurant. The way it is prepared in both cultures is almost the same with slightly different spices used. This dish is called daun ubi tumbuk, or cassava leaf puree cooked in coconut milk. Extremely delicious to be eaten with steamed rice. The velvety texture of the leaves marries well with the thick coconut milk. The dish is really rich in flavor.
At home, we prepared the leaves by grinding them using wooden mortar and pestle. They can also be chopped finely – the end result would be the same, although purists would definitely disapprove of it. Some added dried shrimp or anchovies for extra pungency. The vegetarian version would use pea eggplants, grinded together with the leaves. The leaves and spices are then cooked for a long time to soften them to a puree consistency
Daun ubi tumbuk - cassava leaf puree with coconut milk
Cassava Leaf Puree with Coconut Milk
100 gr cassava leaves
5 salam leaves
50 gr pea eggplants
3 (5 gr) red chili
5 (50 gr) shallots
1 (5 gr) clove garlic
3 (15 gr) candlenuts, toasted
1" fresh galangal, slightly flattened
1 stalk lemongrass, quartered, length-wise
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup coconut milk, diluted with 1 cup water
Grind chili, shallot, garlic, candlenut, ginger, coriander till the ingredients form a paste.
In a blender, mash up the leaves and eggplant slightly. Or chop them finely.
Heat oil in a wok and quickly stir fry the spice paste over low heat for 5 minutes.
Add lemongrass, salam leaves and galangal. Stir fry till the color of the paste turn brownish, 2 more minutes
Toss in the leaves and turn up the heat. Add the diluted coconut milk, cook for another 10 minutes. Do not boil it, just simmer
Season with salt and pinch of sugar
Remove the lemongrass, salam leaves, galangal from the pot. Serve warm with rice.
If we have a national dish – that is well known all over the world for, it would be “Nasi Goreng Indonesia”. Indonesian fried rice has been popular in and out of the country. If you are stranded in some city or town or village and you stepped into local eateries, and if you happened to be not too adventurous in culinary quest, it is the safest item to order and you can always find it in any decent restaurants in sight. Even when they don’t have it in the menu, providing that restaurant do serve rice, you can request for it.
Indonesians like to fit all sorts of flavors and textures in one biteful. That is what sets the fried rice apart from other version found in the region. The condiments are fried shallots, fried rice / prawn crackers, shredded chicken meat and fresh vegetables such as lettuce, sliced cucumber, sliced tomatoes. The flavor is enriched by shrimp paste, chili, garlic and shallots.
As always, the rice used is day-old rice. Newly cooked rice can also be used, if they are properly cooled. However, the fried rice will turn out to be stickier, so proper care in adjusting the heat is needed to ensure that doesn’t happen. Fried rice with grains sticking together is such a turn-off.
Many years ago, a good friend made baked macaroni and brought it to work and we all had a bite. I was so loving it that I tried a lot of recipes to find the right one. Sometimes they were too dry, too salty or too bland. After many tries, I am glad to say that I have finally found the one. This baked macaroni is not the usual macaroni with cheese and milk – I love mine with a little (or a lot) more. Garlic, onion, corned meat, smoked ham and diced chicken meat are other ingredients I included.
Everything is tossed into a casserole dish and then sprinkled with grated cheddar cheese. Baked for half an hour, left on kitchen top till slightly cooled – the pasta and cheesy treat are ready to be cut and served with hot sauce.